The pineapple and the worms
Maria Sibylla Merian’s illustrations of the pineapple are the iconic images of early modern natural history [Figs. 1 and 2]. They reveal the crucial role of women in the development of modern arts and science, they teach us about the importance of the visual arts for natural history, and they serve as reminders of the troubling relationship between European arts, science and colonialism. Merian’s images are also hilarious because they juxtapose the pineapple with a variety of insects that crawl all around the fruit. The first illustration of the green, unripe pineapple, for instance, shows the most delicious pineapple, the queen of all fruits according to many early modern naturalists, in the friendly company of five cockroaches at various stages of development. Merian’s accompanying text explicitly plays on this contrast, claiming that “the pineapple is the most prominent of all edible fruits” while the “cockroaches are the best known of all insects in America because they invade the locals’ cloths, linen, food and drink.” How ironic, then, that this pest likes to eat the very same food that humans do because it is attracted to its sweetness.