Thursday, 30 January 2014




I don’t know about you, but every morning I visit the google home page in hopes of finding a delightful animated image that transforms the logo. Have you ever wondered what this is? It’s a Google Doodle! For those of you who are not familiar with this wonderful feature on their homepage, they are illustrations, animated imagery, or applications that celebrate a noteworthy cultural event or figure. If you click on the logo, Google will magically locate thousands of websites containing a multitude of relevant information. Here is a video of one of my favourites!

Last April, a striking botanical image with detailed bugs and a leaping lizard (designed by Kevin Laughlin) transformed Google’s logo. As it turns out, they were celebrating the 366th birthday of the noteworthy 17th century Swiss naturalist and scientific illustrator, Maria Sibylla Merian. Her realist renditions of flora and fauna not only magnify her refined illustrative skills, but also detail important early biological discoveries.

Maria was born in Frankfurt in 1647 to a Swiss engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian the Elder. Shortly after his passing, Maria’s mother married the still life painter, Jacob Marrel. He encouraged her to practice painting and drawing during her adolescence, which led her to find inspiration in the naturalistic beauty of insects. She was initially interested in silk worms but later documented caterpillars and their inevitable metamorphosis into butterflies and moths.

In her later years as a mother and wife, Maria continued to grow artistically and even created botanical embroidery designs in linen and parchment. To help support her family, she taught drawing and painting lessons to wealthy young women which subsequently provided her access to their vast and abundant estate gardens. For two years, beginning in 1699, Maria fulfilled her lifelong dream to travel throughout Suriname to collect botanical specimens as well as illustrate local plants and insects. Upon her return to Europe, she published a collection of engravings of her findings in South America.

As a 17th century artist and botanist, Maria accomplished so much despite the societal limitations she endured as a women. She dedicated her life to the documentation of botany and produced hundreds of illustrations. Because insects were believed to be ‘beasts of the devil’ and to have been ‘born of mud’, little scientific information had been collected at that time. Despite the innovative nature of her work, she did not receive much appreciation or popularity until the 20th century. Her unusual passion and desire to document the life cycle of nearly 200 different insects defied the scientific findings of the 17th century. Her work subsequently contributed to historic scientific records of Germanic Europe.


  1. What a great way to merge a discussion about Google and Maria! I am always fascinated by the contemporaneity of these images. And their re-emergence in popular culture, including on google's logo. Which in itself could be the topic of one very exciting dissertation - if anyone is interested :) Thank you, Jaime!

  2. Great post jaime! The Debussy doodle is one of my favourites :) I love that Google does this...its such a great way to capture people's attention and maybe introduce them to a person/event/thing of significance that they may not have encountered before or may not know so much about! Kind of like a "word of the day" situation except much more animated.