Goedaert, Johannes

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Goedaert, Johannes

(b. Middelburg, Netherlands, ca. 19 March 1617; d. Middelburg, February 1668),1


Goedaert was the son of Pieter Goedaert and Judith Pottiers. (The family name is variously spelled Goedhart or Goedaerdt or latinized as Goedartius or Goedardus.) The occupation of the elder Goedaert and the religion of the family are unknown, but it is quite probable that they were members of the Dutch Reformed Church.2 Little is known of Goedaert’s life. He probably did not receive a secondary education. He apparently did not know Latin, and wrote his only book in Dutch; the Latin translation, which is the best known, was the work of others (see below). He certainly did not attend a university.

Goedaert is remembered as a painter, more particularly as a watercolorist, whose subjects were mainly birds and insects. According to his biographer C. de Waard, it appears that he had some knowledge of chemistry and pharmacy; it is reported that he knew how to make a remarkable extract of Artemisia absinthium and how to eliminate the tendency of antimony to cause vomiting. Goedaert lived all his life in Middelburg. He married Clara de Bock and by her had one daughter and one son, Johannes, who became a surgeon.

One of the earliest authors on entomology, Goedaert was the first to write on the insects of the Netherlands. More important, he was the first to base his discussions entirely on firsthand observation instead of making the traditional appeal to authority, citing and paraphrasing the work of predecessors. In his only work, Metamorphosis naturalis, he describes his observations of and experiments with insects made between 1635 and 1658.

Basically, Goedaert’s technique was to catch “worms” (larvae) in the field and to rear them, feeding them with their natural nutrients and observing and recording their metamorphosis, until finally the mature animal could be observed and drawn. In this way, he studied the life cycles of a variegated collection of butterflies, bees, wasps, flies, and beetles. Goedaert’s pioneering work is not without its faults. He made no attempt to devise a system of insect classification such as Swammerdam would do as early as 1669, and although aware that most of his “worms” originated from eggs, he believed some were produced by spontaneous generation. The year of his death saw the publication of Redi’s Esperienze intorno alla generatione degli insetti, in which the possibility of spontaneous generation was denied for the first time. Goedaert’s fieldwork was not sufficiently extensive to enable him to solve the problem of the ichneumon wasps. He reported that of two identical caterpillars, one yielded a beautiful butterfly and the other no less than eighty-two little flies. He also made anatomical errors, for example when he related the position of a caterpillar’s legs to the position of the pupa in the cocoon.

Goedaert published two volumes of his book during his lifetime, in 1662 and in 1667. A third, posthumous volume was edited by Johannes de Mey from his papers at the request of his widow. De Mey also translated the first and third volumes into Latin, adding commentaries of his own on insects and comets, mostly the kind of material that Goedaert has been praised for omitting. The second volume was translated into Latin by P. Veezaerdt, who abstained from comment but added a chapter of philosophical speculations on insects. The zoologist M. Lister produced an English translation in which he tried to organize the contents of the book, and it is therefore difficult to compare it with the original. He also edited another Latin edition. Finally, a French translation was published in 1700. Several authors have offered identifications of the insects described by Goedaert.

The faults in Goedaert’s work were recognized soon after his death. Swammerdam spent three folio pages criticizing him,3 but he also added a few words of praise: “... but at the same time we own with satisfaction that this author alone observed and discovered, in the space of a few years, more singularities in the caterpillar kind, than had been done by all the learned men who treated the subject before him.”


1. Dates according to C. de Waard; the date given for birth is day of baptism. A. Schierbeek gives the birth year as 1620. P. J. Meertens states (p. 472, n. 280) that Goedaert was buried in Middelburg on 15 Jan. 1668.

2. It will never be possible to ascertain these points; the archives of Middelburg were destroyed, together with the city hall, in May 1940.

3. Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature (London, 1758), pp. 14–17, passim. This is Thomas Flloyd’s trans, of the Biblia naturae. Goedaert is mentioned many times and sometimes criticized in this and in other of Swammerdam’s works.


I. Original Works. The bibliography of Goedart’s only book is somewhat complicated; it is detailed in Kruseman’s paper (see below). A summary account follows:

Metamorphosis naturalis, ofte historische beschrijvinge van den oirspronk, aerdt, eygenschappen ende vreemde veranderinghen der wormen, rupsen, maeden, vliegen, witjens, byen, motten en diergelijke dierkens meer; niet uit eenige boeken, maar aleenlyck door eygen ervarentheid uytgevonden, beschreven ende na de konst afgeteykent door Johannum Goedaerdt, 3 vols. (Middelburg, vol. I, 1662; vol. II, 1667; vol. III, 1669), carried the imprint of J. Fierens. This edition was reissued in 1700 (probably the same sheets of the 1662–1669 edition) but with a French title page as well as the original Dutch one. The French title page has the imprint of Adrian Moetiens of The Hague; there is an engraved frontispiece, which gives “Amsterdam, 1700.”

Metamorphosis et historiae naturalis insectorum, autore Joanne Goedartio; cum commentaries D. Joannis de Mey... (Middelburg, 1662 [date of dedication]).

Metamorphoseos et historiae naturalis, pars secunda, De insectis, autore Joanne Goedartio, latine donata. . . a Paulo Veezaerdt (Middelburg, 1667 [date of preface]).

Metamorphoseos et historiae naturalis insectorum, pars tertia et ultima, autore Joanne Goedartio aucta observationibus et appendice D. Joannis de May (Middelburg [1669]).

Johannes Goedartius, Of Insects. Done Into English and Methodized, With the Addition of Notes by Martin Lister Esq. The Figures Etched Upon Copper by Mr. F. Pl. (York, 1682). The engraver was Francis Place (1647–1728). Only 150 copies were printed. See Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 13 (1683), 22–23.

Johannes Goedartius, De insectis. In Methodum redactus cum notularum additione, opera M. Lister... item... (London, 1685). This translation is also “methodized.” See Philosophical Transactions, 14 (20 Dec. 1684), 833–834.

Métamorphoses naturelles, ou histoire des insectes. Traduit en françois (Amsterdam–The Hague, 1700). It appears that undated copies exist. See The History of the Works of the Learned, III (1701), 597–602.

J. van Abcoude, in his Naamregister van de... Nederduitsche boeken (Rotterdam, 1773), p. 153, has under the name of Goedaert Historie van den oorsprong der wormen (n.p., n.d.) and Historie van de bloedelooze dieren, 3 vols. (Haarlem, n.d.). I could not confirm these two titles. The title of the second book is the same as that of one of Swammerdam’s books, which, however, was never printed in three volumes. Both works are probably ghosts.

II. Secondary Literature. On Goedaert and his work, see P. de la Ruë, Geletterd Zeeland (Middelburg, 1741), pp. 61–64; C. de Waard, “Johannes Goedaert,” in Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, I (Leiden, 1911), 944–945; P. J. Meertens, Letterkundig leven in Zeeland in de zestiende en de eerste helft der zeventiende eeuw (Amsterdam, 1943); F. Nagtglas, Levensberichten van Zeeuwen (Middelburg, 1890–1893), pp. 267–268; A. Schierbeek, Schouwburg der dieren (The Hague [1943]), pp. 122–127; and G. Kruseman, “The Editions of Goedaert’s Metamorphosis naturalis,” in Entomologische Berichten, 16 (1956), pp. 46–48.

Works especially concerned with the identification of Goedaert’s illustrations are F. S. Bodenheimer, Materialien zur Geschichte der Entomologie bis Linné, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1928), II, 368–372; H. P. Snelleman Cz., “Johannes Goedaert,” in Album der Natuur, 26 (1877), 203–212; S. C. Snellen van Vollenhoven, “Determinatie der platen in het werk van Johannes Goedaert,” ibid., pp. 307–318; and A. Werneburg, Beiträge zur Schmetterlingskunde, I (Erfurt, 1864), p. 24 ff.

Peter W. van der Pas