Willem de Heer, Maria Sibylla Merian

Unusually, this drawing was executed in two distinct stages. The night-blooming datura—a flower that was not native to the Dutch Republic—was drawn by De Heer in 1679. The artist seems to have marveled at the complex anatomy and subtle coloration of the plant, which in this drawing achieves an almost sculptural quality. The two butterflies were added by Merian sixteen years later. Although they give the impression of playfully fluttering around the plant, the insects were rendered in a scientific manner, allowing both their inner and outer wings to be easily observed. The inscription on the verso indicates that the addition of the butterflies was commissioned by Agnes Block, one of Merian’s great patrons.

Willem de Heer
Dutch, 1637/38–1681
Maria Sibylla Merian
German, 1647–1717
Datura with Butterflies, 1679/95
Watercolor and opaque watercolor, with traces of gum arabic, over graphite
The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Charles Ryskamp; 2010.160