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Maria Sibylla Merian and Johann Andreas Graff


Outline – First Part

1. Marriage and Fourteen Common Years in Nurembrg – A Launch Pad for Merian’s Career?

1.1 Johann Andreas Graff’s Nuremberg Origins

1.2 Training in Frankfurt in the Family of Maria Sibylla Meriani

1.3 Graff‘s Journeyman Years in Italy

1.4 Starting a Family in Frankfurt

1.5 Move to Nuremberg – City of Culture and Civic Pride

1.6 Living and Working in the House at the Milk Market

1.7 Maria Sibylla’s Nuremberg Works

1.8 Nuremberg Garden Culture – A Paradise for Butterfly Researchers

1.9 Outlook for the 2017 Commemorative Year for Merian

Abbrevations of Archives etc.

Abbreviations of Various Fields of Literature



View from the Imperial Chapel next to „Maria Sybilla Merian Garden“ to the Old Town roofscape with the family home of Graff and Merian in Bergstraße
Photo: Dieter Lölhöffel


In 1679, a novel book was published in Nuremberg, and more than 330 years later, it still attracts attention. Postcards with motifs from this book are sold in museum shops world-wide, and calendars with attractive large format illustrations are published regularly. But the author of this work about the metamorphosis of insects in their various stages of development and of their host plants did not come to fame under the name “Maria Sibylla Gräffinn“, the name both she and her Nuremberg associates used during her 20 years of marriage to a Nuremberg artist.

The daughter of the deceased (=Seel[igen]) famous copperplate etcher and publisher, Matthäus Merian the Elder, achieved world fame under her maiden name, assumed again after the separation from her Nuremberg husband. Today, the name of her first publisher and life partner of many years, Johann Andreas Graff, is largely forgotten, although his prints still exist.

Some authors still mention Graff in connection with Maria Sibylla Merian, usually either as colourless and mysterious or even inept, unreliable, sometimes even as alcoholic and violent.

In 2017, on the 300th anniversary of Merian’s death, there will be new publications about this early icon and her self-determined, courageous life. So now is the moment for a closer look at her time in the Nuremberg house “To the Golden Sun” with her husband, her daughters and wider personal environment, with favourable conditions for her development as an artist, insect observer and non-fiction author.

In the catalogue for the major Frankfurt exhibition on Maria Sibylla Merian of 1997, on the 350th anniversary of her birth, Kurt Wettengl wrote laconically about Johann Andreas Graff: “His work has been little known or researched.” (3) This sentence can be read in a collection of essays which, because of the comprehensive involvement of various Merian specialist researchers and its remarkable attention to detail is today rightly regarded as a standard research work on Merian. (Side Track 10: Compilation of Quotations about Johann Andreas Graff in literature) The statement concerning a gap in research is still true – astonishing and difficult to understand because there is lasting interest in the life and work of Merian.

Overall, in published Merian research, there are white patches, even persistent misunderstandings about her time in Nuremberg. More intense research in local archives and in older secondary literature provides insight and may contribute to better understanding the path of this splendid woman and the conditions for her early success.

Weiße Flecken in der veröffentlichten Merianin-Forschung oder sogar hartnäckige Missverständnisse gibt es insgesamt für ihre Nürnberger Zeit. Intensivere  Nachforschungen in Archiven vor Ort und in älterer Literatur sind aufschlussreich und können dazu beitragen, den Lebensweg dieser großartigen Frau und die Rahmenbedingungen für ihren frühen Erfolg besser zu verstehen.

Excerpt from the title page of the first Caterpillar Book 1679 (1)

Excerpt from the title page of a series of 16 views of Nuremberg cityscapes and churches, 1694 (2)


How important were Johann Andreas Graff and their marriage of two decades for Merian’s path through life? Was Nuremberg just an intermediate stage in the back of beyond with a huge work load, or was it the place where she could develop her life’s topic, her personality and present the first unique results of her intense study of nature? These questions cannot be reliably answered without casting a closer look at her then partner.

Johann Andreas Graff was born in Nuremberg during the Thirty Years’ War, in early May, 1636. His father Johann Graff (latinised: Gravius, 1595-1644) had migrated to Nuremberg, having been born in Marisfeld (county Henneberg in Thuringia). The Graff family soon made its home in this city with its educated citizens, thirsty for knowledge and with a passion for collecting.

Johann Gravius was a school master, and was honoured as “poeta laureatus” (poet laureate) by Nuremberg University in Altdorf. In 1487, Emperor Frederic II, in the tradition of the crowning of poets in antiquity, had for the first time honoured a German poet with a laurel wreath (laurea). From 1622, the University of Altdorf, by imperial privilege, had the right to bestow this honour for special services to language and rhetoric. (4)

The writing on the oval frame around the commemorative half-figure copperplate etching shows how highly respected Gravius was, although he was not a native of Nuremberg. On the lower part of the sheet, Gravius is praised as a famous star among the followers of the muses and grand “Apollo”, “nobile sidus Aonii gregis, et magnus Apollo” (6). A very honourable comparison for the school master, since the Greek god Apollo still had great symbolic significance as protector of the Arts and ruler of the muses, in Baroque times. „nobile sidus Aonii gregis, et magnus Apollo“. Ein sehr ehrenhafter Vergleich für den Herrn Magister, weil der griechische Gott Apoll als Beschützer der Schönen Künste und Lenker der Musen sogar noch in der Barockzeit große symbolische Bedeutung hatte.

This first part of the essay (41 pages) by Margot Lölhöffel has been published in German together with other essays dealing with Nuremberg topics in the annual “Nürnberger Altstadtberichte” of the “Nürnberger Altstadtfreunde”, no. 40/2015.

Altstadtfreunde Nürnberg e.V.
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Commemorative copperplate etching for the late headmaster, Gravius (5)

  1. Gräffin, Maria Sibylla (MSM 1679), Excerpt from the title page of First Caterpillar Book (Erstes Raupenbuch); courtesy of StadtBN, Handschriftenabteilung, Sig. Med. 332.4– illuminated copy
  2. Graff, Johann Andreas, excerpt from title page of ”Urbis Noribergensis Insigniorum Templorum”, 1694; etching, plate 21,5 x 21 cm, courtesy of StädtMN, Kunstsammlungen, Inv. No. Gr.A. 099874
  3. Wettengl (Lit 1997), p. 36, No. 18
  4. Mährle (Soz 2000) p. 93
  5. Som(m)er, Mathias van (etcher), memorial sheet for Johann(es) Graf (Gravius), etching, plate: 18.4 x 12.2 cm, sheet: 18.6 x 12.6 cm; courtesy of © Herzog Anton Ulrich Museums (HAUM), Braunschweig, Kunstmuseum des Landes Niedersachsen, photographic rights: Museumsfotograf Inv. No. m-v-sommer-ab-30006; Thanks to Renate Ell, Hettenshausen for pointing out the internet source.
  6. Thanks to Dr. Hans-Martin Hagen, Nürnberg, for translation and helpful explanations