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Mercury and Argus

A work made of etching on cream laid paper.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of etching on cream laid paper.




Simone Cantarini
Italian, 1612-1648

About this artwork

Mercury and Argus shows Mercury, disguised as a shepherd, lulling the giant Argus to sleep in order to steal Io, the comely cow in the background of the image, for Jupiter. One of Jupiter’s many mortal lovers, Io was turned into a cow and put under the guardianship of Argus. But Jupiter tasks Mercury with killing Argus and freeing Io—the scene shown here. While Cantarini depicted Argus with two eyes, the giant was said to have a hundred. After Argus is killed by Mercury, his eyes decorate the peacock’s feathers.

With its poetic effect and mature technical ability, this is one of the artist’s most prized etchings. The composition dates to his late years in Bologna and is also known in a painting now in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, which may derive from the etching.


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Prints and Drawings


Simone Cantarini


Mercury and Argus


Italy (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Etching on cream laid paper


25.7 × 29.9 cm (10 1/8 × 11 13/16 in.)

Credit Line

Hannan Fund Endowment

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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