Markgraf (or Marcgraf), Georg

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(b. Liebstadt, Meissen, Germany, 20 September 1610; d. Luanda, Angola, August 1644)

astronomy, botany, zoology.

Markgraf was the son of Georg Markgraf, headmaster of the Liebstadt school, and Elisabeth Simon, daughter of the pastor there. He was educated at home, where he became proficient in Greek, Latin, music, and drawing; in 1627 he began to travel and to study with scientists throughout Germany. He matriculated at the University of Leiden on 11 September 1636, already well versed in all applications of mathematics and in both the natural sciences and medicine.

Markgraf had long been interested in observing the stars of the southern hemisphere; the opportunity to do so arose when he was invited to participate in a military and exploratory expedition to the Dutch settlements in Brazil. The expedition was under the leadership of Count Maurice of Nassau, who was at that time laying siege to the Portuguese settlement of São Salvador (now Bahía). The research staff, under the direction of Willem Pies (William Piso), left Leiden to join the count on 1 January 1638. Markgraf began his scientific work—making maps and assembling botanical and Zoological collections—amid the difficult and often gravely dangerous circumstance of war.

At the end of the siege, the expendition sailed for Pernambuco. They founded the town of Mauritzstad (now part of Recife) and built the castle of Vrijburg on the island of Antonio Vaz. Markgraf drew up the plans for the new town and its fortifications, and Maurice installed an observatory for him in a tower of the castle. Margraf determined the exact position of his site and began to make observations, including those of the planet Mercury and of the solar eclipse of 13 November 1640. He introduced into the island specimens of plants and animals that he had collected on his journeys; the park of Vrijburg Castle was subsequently made a botanical and zoological garden. With an escort of soldiers, to protect him against attack by Indians or by the Portuguese, Markgraf also mapped the region from Rio São Franscisco to Ceará and Maranhão and made watercolor depictions, from nature, of flora and fauna. His methods of observing and painting were pioneering, analogous to those of Konrad Gesner in Europe.

Although Markgraf wished to return to Holland in 1644 to compile the results of his researches, he sailed to the Dutch settlements of East Africa to do further fieldwork. He died of a fever in Luanda; he had previously given all his collection and manuscripts into the keeping of Maurice of Nassau.


I. Original Works. The best evidence of Markgraf’s work is in “Historiae rerum naturalium Brasiliae libri octo,” in Jan De Laet, ed., Historia naturalis Brasiliae (Leiden-Amsterdam, 1648); Willem Pies, De Indiae untriusque re naturalie et medica libri quatuordecim, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam, 1658), jumbles Markgraf’s and Pies’s observations. The printer states that he added the paper on the solar eclipse but, at the suggestion of competent astronomers, did not publish other astronomical notes. Casparis Barlaei (van Baerle), Rerum per octennium in Brasilia et alibi gestarum sub praefectura illustrissimi comitis J. Mauritii Nassaviae &c. historia (Amsterdam, 1657), contains Markgraf’s geographical maps, which are much praised by specialists.

The dried plants introduced by Markgraf to the botanical garden of the island of Antonio Vaz and blocks for his woodcuts are at the Botanical Museum, Copenhagen, Liber principis, the collection of Markgraf’s watercolors, was at the Preussiche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, until 1945.

II. Secondary Literature. The first account of Markgraf’s life, with important details, was written by his brother Christian and appeared in J. J. Manget, Bibliotheca scriptorum medicorum, XII (Geneva, 1731), 262–264. Part of it is a defense against Pies.

An early and comprehensive paper is H. Lichtenstein, “Die Werke von Marcgrave und Piso über die Naturgechichte Brasiliens, erläutert aus den wiederaufgefunednen Originalzeichnungen,” in Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Physikalische Abhandlungen, for 1814–1815 (1818), 201–222; for 1817 (1819), 155–178; for 1820–1821 (1823), 237–254, 267–288; and for 1826 (1829), 49–65.

An appreciation of Markgraf’s significance as a pioneer of Brazilian botany is C. von Martius, “Versuch eines Commentars über die Pflanzen in den Werken von Marcgrav und Piso über Brasilien,” in Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Math.-phys. Kl., 7 (1853), 179–238.

Some important corrections derived from archival studies are presented by J. Moreira, “Marcgrave e Piso,” in Revista do Museu paulista, 14 (1926), 649–673. Corresponding notes on the relationship of Markgraf and Pies are given by R. von Ihering, “George Marcgrave,” ibid., 9 (1914), 307–315.

The outstanding value of Markgraf’s geographical maps is judged by V. Hantzch, “George Marggraf,” in Berichte über die Verhandlungen der K. ächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Phil.-hist. Kl., 48 (1896), 199–227.

Markgraf’s plants in his books of 1648 and 1658 were identified most successfully by Dom Bento Pickel, “Piso e Marcgrave na botânica brasileira,” in Revita da flora medicinal (Rio), 16 (1949), 155.

Markgraf’s model herbarium is evaluated briefly by F. Liebmann in N. Wallich’s trans. of Martiu’s paper in Hooker’s Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany,5 (1853), 167–168, note.

A recent reference of Markgraf’s herbarium is given by B. MacBryde, “Rediscovery of G. Marcgrave’s Brazilian Collection (1638–1644),” in Taxon,19 (1970), 349.

F. Markgraf

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Markgraf (or Marcgraf), Georg

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