A Miraculous Part of the Natural World


Stag Beetle, Albrecht Dürer, 1505

 
 

“It is indeed true,” wrote Albrecht Dürer, “that art is omnipresent in nature, and the true artist is he who can bring it out.” The Stag Beetle is one of Dürer’s most influential and most copied nature studies.

 
 

Stag Beetle, Hans Hoffmann after Albrecht Dürer, 1574

 
 

Georg Hoefnagel appropriate the Stag Beetle on not fewer than three occasions. Archetype studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii shows close-up portraits of plants, insects, and small animals. It initiated at the time of its publishing in 1592 (Frankfurt) an immediate admiration of the art and nature lovers. The designs were created by Georg Hoefnagel and engraved by his son, Jacob who was said to be 17-years old at the time of the publishing (in reality he was 19-years old).

 
 

Singling out a beetle as the focal point of a work of art was unprecedented in 1505, when most of Dürer’s contemporaries believed that insects were the lowest of creatures. Dürer’s keen interest in nature, however, was a typical manifestation of the Renaissance. This beetle, rendered with such care and respect, seems almost heroic as he looms above the page.

Seen up close, the creature’s legs and spiky mandibles suggest its kinship to imaginary beasts in late Gothic depictions of Hell or the temptation of Saint Anthony Abbott.

 
 

Madonna and Child with a Multitude of Animals, Albrecht Dürer, 1503

 
 
Landscape with the Virgin and child seated at centre, several animals in foreground (e.g. dog, beetle, slug, butterfly, dragonfly, fox on a leash, frog, owl in tree trunk, spider crab), an angel addressing a group of shepherds in background at right, a bay with a city in background at left

In antiquity, insects had been included in trompe l’oeil and memento mori paintings to demonstrate technical virtuosity and as symbols of evil and death, while butterflies represented transformation and resurrection. Insects in themselves were considered unworthy of consideration as subjects for painting.

By the 17th century, the obsession with natural history —and with insects as a miraculous part of the natural world— took precedence, and symbolism was left behind. Insects became subjects of study and fascination. Dürer, as always, ahead of his time, brings his masterful draughtsmanship to his watercolor, of a beetle—which he considered a finished work of art, not a study. Durer’s realistic rendering of this humble bug is a tribute to the minutest in nature, that which is often overlooked or summarily destroyed, its importance lost to ignorance or neglect.

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4 thoughts on “A Miraculous Part of the Natural World

  1. I see you more and more as a curator; a scroll through your blog chronologically is akin to a walk through the wing of a gallery. So for you what does this shift in focus from butterflies to beetles mean?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very keen observation, Steve.
      I worked along with an art historian during almost two years, back in the time when I was studying art (painting).

      The meaning of being focused on butterflies and other insects right now is kinda personal, but I will share the story.

      In May 2005 I started dating a friend. I felt in love with him but it was an unrequited love. I did everything I could to seduce him but I failed. I wrote a story in Spanish based on our meetings, which I entitled “Cupido acróbata” (“Acrobat Cupid”). Yellow butterflies were involved in the story.

      Time after, as another attempt to get his love I made a handmade book titled “Leaves” after Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. I filled the book with drawings (butterflies and other symbols), quotations from the books I had been read since I was a child (“The Little Prince”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”), assorted adult readings; fragments of lyrics of our favorite songs… I gave him the book two days before my 28 birthday, on September of that same year, 2005. When we broke up as friends I asked him to give me back the book. (I thought he didn’t deserve to keep it).

      One day I decided to share some of those feuilles volantes (flying leaves) in my native language but it was misunderstood by some people. But fortunately, the nice feedback I receive from you and from many other readers inspire me to keep posting.

      The shift in focus from butterflies and beetles is just temporary 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • So many of the images on your blog refer back to that book you made for your lost love?

        Have you considered publishing it? The work in your blog, as a whole, would make a lovely volume. I’m sure many a publisher would agree.

        Thanks for sharing your story Luixi. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, images, quotations, excerpts… but they lost the original purpose, indeed.

        Paul, my ex-boyfriend and former editor of this blog, recommended me to publishing it as well. Maybe I will do it anytime soon. Thanks again, Steven. I appreciate a lot your support.

        You are a very special and gifted man 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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