Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 1, 2016

Maria Merian and Mary Anning in London

When my daughter and I vacationed last week in the UK, we visited Holyroodhouse Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots stuck to the shadows as her husband murdered her private secretary, and toured Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.While looking at portraits in the old stone halls, Emily filled me in on royal shenanigans. We both like history, but she knows more about Tudor drama, while I prefer scientists who didn’t have to worry about their necks.

Maria Merian’s name is becoming better known, though she’s not yet as famous as she was in Germany and Holland in the late 1600’s, when her paintings first became prized.


During a period when metamorphosis was not commonly understood, her paintings showed how small animals transformed as well as the way plants and animals depend on each other.Some of her work was bought by George III to form part of his scientific library, and are currently handsomely displayed in the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace.




In one room, children can pretend they’re in a rain forest, such as one Maria Merian, at age fifty, explored in Suriname. Children can look up at paper butterflies dangling from the ceiling or try out magnifying glasses.


I wrote about Maria Merian in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks and another scientist in Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. Those extraordinary women have stayed with me, so I wrote longer verse histories in Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. In a spirit of thanks for the good company, happy to visit two in one city, I headed to the Natural History Museum, London, where fossils that Mary Anning found almost two centuries ago still astonish.


I saw several skulls of ichthyosaurs, an extinct animal which she was first to discover and excavate when she was twelve. Some were embedded with ammonites, called snakestones when she first collected them as a young girl with her father.


The fossils are covered with glass, so my photo is riddled with reflections, but you can get a sense of the size – this reptile is about seventeen feet long. I loved seeing the engaged children and grownups posing for pictures with their arms outstretched and still covering only a portion of the creature.


Of course I needed a picture, too, holding Finding Wonderswhich puts together the stories of the German Maria Merian, Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, England, as well as Maria Mitchell, the first American to discover a comet.






  1. Your photos make the women in “Finding Wonders” even more astounding – the butterflies, the ichthyosaurus.

    • I know – you can see why these women possessed me! (is that the right word?) Certainly perpetually astonished. It was good to be at the Museum of Natural History and be reminded of the sheer size of those fossils Mary excavated. And to see visitors still be astounded by them.

  2. My kids and I haunted the Anning exhibit in London-fascinating. Very cool Merian exhibition- that’s a wonderful gallery, too. What a lovely time you and your daughter always have on your travels!

    • It is so nice to think of you and your kids among those fossils. I had not been to that museum in years, and it gets better each time. I was sad not to get into the earth sciences library, though, and see the original painting of Anning that is reproduced. But wonderful luck to be there when the Merian exhibit was on display. The royal blue walls, the place for children, the sheer gorgeousness of the work … what a pleasure! And then tea with Emily!

  3. Thank you for sharing these photos from your trip. Maria’s paintings are breathtaking, and it’s hard to imagine a 12 year old, boy or girl, excavating that massive creature! Love the picture of you & your book in front of Mary & friend.

    • Thanks, Catherine! Hope your September is starting well!

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