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At the base of this image crawl two Rhinoceros beetles, their legs casting delicate shadows on the mound of earth below. Above at right, a moth's wing glints with gold. One large beetle at center even seems caught in diagonal flight across the page. With such animated details and composition, it's surprising to think that the Dutch artist, Nicolaas Struyck, likely worked from dead specimens.
Look closely and you'll notice that the "flying" beetle in the middle does not actually have its wings extended. Stuyck nevertheless brings it to life by leaving its right side brown and black, but at left, uses highlights of white gouache (a thick, opaque water color) to suggest that light is falling on the frame from the left.
This rare long horned beetle is native to Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony in Struyck's time. The specimen was likely brought to the Netherlands to join a wealthy person's collection of exotic flora and fauna, often admired in elaborate display cases known as "curiosity cabinets." All the rage in the 17th and 18th centuries, even status symbols among the elite, they showcased items ranging from artwork to objects from the natural world such as shells, crystals, minerals. The collections were seen as a microcosm of the universe, juxtaposing the wonders of man with those of God or nature.
The insects might appear scientifically precise, but in fact Struyck takes artistic liberties; these insects would not have lived in the same natural environment. In his day, art and science were not considered two separate disciplines, and Struyck, in fact, was neither a professional artist, nor a scientist. He was a noted mathematician and likely created amateur drawings such as this not for sale, but for his own enjoyment. Medium: pen and black ink, watercolour, gouache, gold paint with white gouache heightening, and pen and brown iron-gall ink.
For full details please visit the collection website.