Rhetoric of the author presentation: the case of Maria Sibylla Merian
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This dissertation has two main objectives. First, it intends to show that early modern German author portraits have a rhetorical form that is both verbal and visual and have a function beyond presenting writers to their public. The elements employed in representing the author and the process by which meaning is constructed in that representation are particular to the early modern period. By interpreting the form and meaning in a manner appropriate to a society attuned to rhetoric and representation, we see a cultural agenda that the author portrait seeks to serve. Second, the dissertation offers a case study on the representation of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) in the books authored by her. An artist and naturalist, Merian’s investigations took her as far as Suriname at the age of 52, and in her lifetime she published three illustrated books on her findings. Chapter one surveys lines of tradition of the pan-European author portrait and presents an approach that considers author images in connection to the front matter of their books. The Merian case study comprises chapter two through six. Chapter two begins with the printing history of Merian’s works and narrows the Merian images under consideration to one portrait and two frontispieces. Chapter three analyzes front matter of Merian editions dating from 1675 to 1771 by taking a diachronic look at first editions and later adaptations by changing participants in the publishing process. Chapter four considers how Merian’s image as an artist first leans upon family reputation and then encompasses her unique style, subject matter, and purpose. Chapter five situates Merian’s identity as a naturalist within a larger scientific context and shows how her image participates in a larger eighteenth-century publishing enterprise that exploits the appeal of exotic flora and fauna to promote colonial science. Chapter six explores how gender affects Merian’s multi-faceted persona in print by comparing her image with a portrait and frontispieces in works by naturalist Georg Rumphius. The conclusion addresses the implications of Merian’s presentation for further understanding the employment of visual and textual front matter.