This, largest of all Dürer's engravings, has always been considered one of his finest. According to the legend Placidus, a general under Emperor Trajan, was out hunting one day when Christ appeared to him in the shape of a white stag which had a radiant crucifix between its antlers. This vision prompted his conversion to Christianity, and he was baptised Eustace. As the patron saint of hunters and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers he was one of the most popular saints of the 15th and 16th Centuries.
As an artist for whom the study of nature was paramount, the subject of the stag hunt in the forest offered Dürer an opportunity to display his consummate skill in the representation of animals, plants and landscape. Since Leonardo's writings on the subject - the so-called Paragone - the question of the supremacy of the different artistic media was one of the great disputes in the theory of art and was reiterated in various tracts throughout the 16th Century. One argument in favour of sculpture was that it allowed the artist to show a figure three-dimensionally and from different angles at the same time. By demonstrating that this could also be done in two dimensions painters tried to invalidate this argument.
One of the most admired and best-loved elements in Dürer's printmaking are the greyhounds in the foreground of the present composition, and commentators cited them as proof of the parity of painting and sculpture, such was the effectiveness with which they were described.