An illustration of two reptiles, from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium II. These two creatures were painted sometime in the first decade of the 1700s by German illustrator Dorothea Maria Graff whose mother, Maria Sibylla Merian, was also well known as a painter, engraver, and naturalist. The two of them first traveled to Surinam in 1699, where they probably saw both of these animals in their home environment. Dorothea’s sister, Johanna, moved there with her husband, returning to Europe after their mother had a stroke to help Dorothea put out books under their mother’s name – that is, helping to finish the series of volumes on insect metamorphosis that Maria had started. The work was called Der rupsen begin, voedzel en wonderbaare verandering, which means something like “The Caterpillar Beginning, Feeding, and Miraculous Change.”
Johanna went back to Surinam before the third volume was published, but continued to send Dorothea insect specimens. After Maria died, Dorothea married Swiss painter Georg Gsell, who became court painter to Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg, where Dorothea became a drafting teacher and painter at the Petrus Academie of Science, and curator of the natural history collection Kunstkamera, the first museum in Russia.
To this day, experts have trouble telling whether Maria, Johanna, or Dorothea painted certain illustrations; this caiman and snake were originally attributed to the mother, but it seems likely these were Dorothea’s work.