The Merians
The Merian family members were prolific and energetic producers of historical representations as
well as gifted artists. Matthäus Merian der Ältere was born in Basel In 1593. Early in his life he
produced detailed town plans in his unique style and with help from assistants he created numerous
engravings of battles and hunts. With German geographer Martin Zeiler, 1589 - 1661, and his own
son, he produced topographic prints of European towns. His 21 volume series of Topographia
Germaniae includes a vast number of town plans, views, maps of most countries and a World Map.
He first studied copperplate engraving in Zurich, then relocated to Strassburg, Nancy and Paris
before returning to Basel in 1615. The following year he moved to Frankfurt, where in 1617 he
married Maria Magdalena de Bry, daughter of publisher Johann Theodor de Bry. They moved back
to Basel in 1620, only to return three years later to Frankfurt, where Merian took over the publishing
house of his deceased father-in-law in 1623. He also took over and completed later parts and editions
of the Grand Voyages and Petits Voyages originally started by de Bry in 1590. Below: Merian the
Elder, the Younger & the Female
He became a citizen of Frankfurt in 1628 and worked as an independent publisher. He is known for
prints such as the Dance of Death and the Theatrum Europaeum series. Matthäus Merian died in
1650 near Wiesbaden. His son, Matthäus Merian, the younger, 1621–87, portrait and historical
painter of the rich and famous, worked throughout Europe. He is best represented by Martyrdom of
St. Lawrence in the Bamberg Cathdral, and by his daughter, Maria Sibylla Merian, 1647–1717, who
was a naturalist and painter of insects and flowers. She published her first book on insects in 1705,
with plates she engraved and colored in 1699 when she went to Dutch Guiana to research tropical
insects. Although her exquisite art work drew praise, one of her paintings of a Guianan bird-eating
spider became the laughing stock of Europe until 1863, when an English naturalist observed a similar
spider in the Amazon forest.