Nicolaas Meerburgh, gardener, illustrator, and botanist, was born in Leiden and baptized on February 3, 1734. His professional training was probably directed by the famous Master Gardener, Adriaan Steckhoven (+1782), but little is known of his activities before he became Hortolanus of the Botanical Garden in his native city. The garden was affiliated with the University of Leiden, and, in 1775, Meerburgh was appointed “comptroller” of the university. In the same year, the first part of his major work, Afbeeldingen van zeldzame gewassen (Portraits of Rare Plants), was published; it was followed by four additional volumes, and completed in 1780. The volumes contained fifty hand colored engravings of plants from the Leiden gardens. The illustrations were drawn and engraved by Meerburgh himself. His other publications were Plantae rariores vivis coloribus depictae (1789), a Latin version of the Afbeeldingen with fifty-five plates and four extra pages of text and Plantae selectarum icones pictae (1798).
Meerburgh was certainly well known and an important figure in Dutch gardening circles in the late eighteenth century. The German botanist, Jakob Friedrich Ehrhart, a pupil of Linnaeus, and director of the botanical garden of Hanover, while on a European excursion, made a stop in Leiden in order to see Meerburgh and the gardens. He wrote in his journal that he had been very impressed by the botanical knowledge and work of his host. He also praised Frau Meerburgh for her botanical learning. Meerburgh made many contributions to the Leiden garden, and he remained its director until his death in 1814.
H. Veendorp & L. G. M. Baas Becking. Hortus
Academicus Lugduno-Batavus. 1587-1937. Leiden, 1990.
Hans Peter Fuchs. “Nicolaas Meerburgh und die drei von ihm verfassten Botanischen Tafelwerke.” Acta Botanica Neerlandica, 11:69-89 (1962); 12:12-16 (1963).
Robert F. Erickson