Maria Sibylla Merian

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Maria Sibylla Merian
Black Tegu Lizard (Tupinambis teguixin)
ca. 1705-1715
Watercolor and opaque watercolor over counterproof on vellum.
13 x 17 inches (329 x 430 mm)
Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund 1978.

Merian was one of the most celebrated naturalists and scientific illustrators of her age. In 1699, she traveled from Amsterdam to Suriname, then a Dutch colony, in South America. While the artist was particularly interested in studying the metamorphosis of insects, she also depicted plants and animals native to the land. The expedition resulted in the publication of the “Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium” (1705), a groundbreaking treatise that described and illustrated, through etchings, many species previously unknown in Europe. The second edition, published posthumously in 1719, included illustrations of Surinamese reptiles, such as the Black Tegu (plate 70), one of the largest lizards in the world. Long considered to be a preparatory modello for that print, the Morgan sheet is, in fact, a colored counterproof on vellum. It was made by pulling a fresh impression from the original plate, placing a sheet of vellum on top of the print, and running the two sheets through the printing press the second time. This resulted in a delicate rendering of the outline, which the artist (or, in some cases, her daughters) could then rework with watercolor and opaque watercolor. The expensive support and the care which the artist took in describing the lizard's body and the texture and pattern of its scales suggest that it was made for a descriminating client. Two other colored counterproofs of the Black Tegu can be found in English collections: in an album previously owned by an English physician Richard Mead (1673-1754), now held by the Royal Collection (inv. no. RCIN 921219), and in an album that once belonged to a naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), now at the British Museum (inv. no. SL,5275.62). For a full assessment of both technical and aesthetic implications of Merian's counterproof process, see Stephanie Schrader, Nancy Turner, and Nancy Yocco, "Naturalism under the Microscope: A Technical Study of Maria Sibylla Merian's Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam," Getty Research Journal, no. 4 (2012), pp. 161-171.


Inscribed on the verso, at left edge, in graphite, "N.100 uit Boek f. van Jan Bisschop's Verk. Te Rottm.Juni 1771 / 44- / Een Surinaamsche Sauvegard, door Maria Sybilla Merian".

Jan Bisschop (1680/81-1771), Rotterdam; his sale, Rotterdam, Bosch and Arrenberg, 24 June 1771, Album A, lot 100: "Een Surinaamse Sauvegard door dezelven [i.e. Maria Sibylle Merian]" (with lots 101 and 102 to van der Marck for 35 fl.); Johan van der Marck Ægzn (1707-1772), Leiden (no mark; see Lugt 3001); his sale, Amsterdam, de Winter & IJver, 29 November 1773, Album H, lot 717: "Een Surinaamse Sauve-Garde; als vooen getekend" [i.e. with watercolor on vellum] (with lot 716 to "Delfos" for 7 fl.); Dr. Jan Tak, Leiden; his sale, Haarlem, Jan van de Vinne, 10 October 1780, Album B, lot 170: "Een Surinaamsche Sauvegarde, uitvoerigmet eaterverw op pergament getekend, door Sybille Merian" (to "Heemskerck" for 20 fl.); Jonkheer L.J. Quarles van Ufford; his sale, Haarlem, 23 March 1784, Album 4, lot 174: "La Sauvegarde de Surinam. Aquarelle très soignée"; sale, London, Sotheby's, 7 July 1999; acquired from Thomas Williams Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Associated names: 

Bisschop, Jan, 1680 or 1681-1771, former owner.
Marck, Johan van der, 1707-1772, former owner.
Tak, Jan, former owner.
Quarles van Ufford, L. J., 18th cent., former owner.


The Morgan Library : An American Masterpiece. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 2000, no. 24, repr.
Jane Shoaf Turner, with contributions by Felice Stampfle, Dutch Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library: Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries, New York, 2006, cat. no. 154.

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