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2 mai 2024

Jacob Marrel and the power of the mentor

Jacob Marrel (Frankenthal 1613/1614 – Frankfurt 1681), Flowers in a Glass Vase with a Kingfisher, Snail, Cherries, Lizard, Stag Beetle, Shells, Butterflies, Dragonfly, Bee, and other Insects on a Stone Ledge. Oil on panel, 94.9 x 68 cm. © Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts


The relationship between mentor and mentee has long been recognized as a formative influence in the development of individuals' talents and passions. Look at Rafael Nadal and his uncle Tony or Tiger Woods and his father. Particularly in athletics, these relationships are well documented but what about in art? The connection between Jacob Marrel, celebrated still-life painter, and Maria Sibylla Merian, a pioneering naturalist and scientific illustrator is a unique example, mostly developed through fate, as many success stories do.

Maria was born to the Swiss engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian the Elder and Johanna Sybilla Heyne, in 1647. Her father died in 1650 and in 1651 Maria’s mother married Marrel providing young Maria with unprecedented access to artistic technique and expression of one of the most important still-life painters working. Most girls in the 17thcentury were not offered the attention that Maria would receive from her stepfather for anything leaning towards a career, however Marrel must have seen something in Maria. Marrel's works, which often features meticulously rendered insects and botanical specimens, inspired Maria and sparked an interest that would carry throughout her life. Through his guidance, Maria learned the intricacies of painting, including color theory, composition, and attention to detail.

Marrel also instilled in Maria a curiosity, particularly in the areas of botany and entomology. Marrel clearly had his own passion for these same pursuits. You wonder if Marrel had found a kindred spirit in Maria. It could not have been a better match. His emphasis on close observation and accurate representation laid the groundwork for Maria's future scientific pursuits. Under Marrel's tutelage, Maria developed a keen eye for detail and a deep appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the biological world.

Marrel's influence also fostered an environment that encouraged Maria's intellectual and creative growth. This was quite unusual for this time, and must have perplexed some people, but Marrel clearly saw the talent he had to work with. As a prominent figure within the artistic community, Marrel introduced Maria into scientific circles and contributed to the dissemination of her later work.

Marrel's influence on Maria's early development was profound, her groundbreaking studies of insect metamorphosis and ecological relationships, as well as her exquisite scientific illustrations, established her as one of the foremost naturalists of her time. Maria Sibylla Merian’s achievements stand as a testament to the lasting impact of Jacob Marrel's mentorship and guidance.

Maria was extremely talented, but to have Jacob Marrel as your stepfather, a man who was not only talented himself but open to acknowledging talent and then teaching and supporting her interests is lucky. It is the ultimate example of the importance of not only the power of mentorship but paying it forward. Where would we be without people like Jacob Marrel in this world?

Provenance: Private Collection.