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Title Mercury and Argus
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Mola, Pier Francesco (Italian painter and draftsman, 1612-1666)
Date Earliest about 1633
Date Latest about 1637
Description Mola is best known for his small-scale landscapes with figure subjects. This example may be part of a group of early works dating from the mid 1630s.

The subject comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, book I. Jupiter, ruler of the Gods, seduced the nymph, Io who he transformed into a heifer so as not to arouse the suspicion of his wife, Juno. However, Juno was not fooled and asked Jupiter to give her the heifer as a gift. She commanded the giant Argus to guide the animal. Jupiter sent Mercury disguised as a shepherd to kill Argus. Mercury lulled the giant to sleep with music and stories and then cut off his head. Jove finally triumphed as Io was transformed back into a nymph and bore a son, Epaphus.

In this version of the story, Juno observes the murder taking place from above.

Current Accession Number 1999Q17
Subject mythology (Mercury and Argus (Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I))
Measurements 31.2 x 40.8 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Lent by Sir Denis Mahon, CBE, FBA 1999.
Provenance K. R. Mackenzie, Gillots, Henley-on-Thames; his sale, Christie's, London, 4 June 1917, lot 136, bought by Cohen; Sotheby's sale, London, 29 November 1950, lot 80 as Poussin, bought by Denis Mahon.
Principal Exhibitions Discovering the Italian Baroque: The Denis Mahon Collection, National Gallery, London, 1997, cat. no. 55.
Publications Finaldi, G., and Kitson, M., Discovering the Italian Baroque, The Denis Mahon Collection, National Gallery, London, 1997, no. 55
Notes

Two labels on back, 1. 'Stacy Marks' (H. Stacy Marks, RA 1829 - 98); 2. In the same hand 'Landscape/Argus & Mercury by/Poussin'; White chalk inscription on the stretcher, 'CAREY' (William Paulet Carey [?]).

Marijke C. de Kinkelder of the RKD doubts the attribution to Pieter van Laer. She has suggested an attribution to (or after) Jan Miel. The painting is to be bequeathed to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Sir Denis Mahon's death.

Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth
 

 

 

 

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