Inventory number
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
Mercury and Argos
Ca. 1659
127 cm x 250 cm
On display
Royal Collection (Royal Palace of El Buen Retiro, Madrid, “pinturas recogidas de las Casas Arzobispales”, 1747, n. 57; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “paso de tribuna y trascuartos”, 1772, n. 57; Royal Palace, “antecámara 2ª”, 1794, n. 57)

This work depicts the mythological passage from Ovid's Metamorphosis in which Argos the shepherd is put to sleep by the music of Mercury —recognizable by his elongated hat— while guiding a calf for the Roman goddess, Juno. She had received the animal as a present from her husband, Jupiter who, in an effort to hide one of his amorous adventures, had converted his lover, Io the nymph, into a calf, thus avoiding his wife's jealousy.

An allegory of the permanent need for the Prince's vigilance in his kingdom, this work was painted for the Hall of Mirrors at Madrid's Alcázar Palace, where it formed a group with three other paintings lost in the Alcázar fire of 1734: Apollo and Marsyas, Venus and Adonis and Cupid and Psyche.

The complex format, imposed by the intention to hang the work over a window, implied a slightly forced composition. This, along with an extremely fluid technique, destroys the limits of a conventional painting and fills the work with life.

Beginning in 1666, this work was listed in all of the inventories of Madrid's Alcázar and Royal Palaces. It entered the Prado Museum collection in 1819.

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