Albrecht Durer took great enjoyment from his study work with insects, although these rarely receive as much prominence in his career as other genres in which he was involved. This stag beetle offered little in colour ans so he would have chosen it in order to practice and develop his anatomical skills.
The way in which this artwork is cropped leads us to suspect that it may have originally been part of a larger painting, though this is unlikely to ever be confirmed either way. He also signed this beetle, suggesting that in most likelihood it was always on its own.
The artist manages to portray the smooth exterior of this fascinating creature and to provide such detail and accuracy through the medium of watercolour is particularly impressive. It is a small painting at only 14cm by 11cm.
Durer was a particularly innovative artist, taking on all manner of different creatures for his watercolour portraits. His Young Hare remains his best known, but others included the Wing of a Blue Roller, Head of a Stag and Garza.
Cervus Lucanus (Stag Beetle) is currently owned by the The J. Paul Getty Museum but not always placed on display due to the huge collection at their disposal. It has, however, featured in specific exhibitions at the venue on many occasions, such as The Secret Life of Drawings in late 2010 and The Prismatic Palette: Four Centuries of Watercolors in early 2005.
Many artists believed that little beauty could be found in insects, particularly beetles. Durer was very much his own man, artistically, and produced beauty from his brush. He would use transparent washes in order to add layers of lighting, such as shadows below its legs. Perhaps the closest use of insects in the Renaissance was by Hieronymus Bosch whose imaginary creatures in The Garden of Earthly Delights bear clear resemblance to elements of real insects.