Maria Sibylla Merian. Hyporicum Baxiforum, with several snails and a beetle. German, 1695. FM: 1146C © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

This beautiful watercolour, by the innovative German naturalist and illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian, demonstrates both scientific expertise and artistic skill. Merian was a keen entomologist, and the snails, slugs and beetle in this image are minutely observed and carefully represented. But there is also an element of artistic license, as Marian shows the insects gathering closely together in a way which they would be unlikely to do in reality, whilst the delicate leaves they balance on would barely support their weight. Although she was something of an outlier in terms of the extent of her interest and expertise, Marian’s work also serves as a reminder of the important role played by women in generating and preserving botanical and medical knowledge in the early modern period: women were often responsible for the everyday health of the households, preparing balms and ‘simples’ for everyday ailments.