Collection Online
Mercury and Argus
oil on wood panel
49.3 × 64.5 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mr James Fairfax AO, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1996
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
17th Century & Flemish Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
Subjects (general)
Human Figures Literary and Text Religion and Mythology
Subjects (specific)
Argos (Greek character) cattle deities livestock Mercury (Roman deity) Mercury and Argus (Greco-Roman narrative) narrative art shepherds

Baron Descamps, Brussels private collection, Brussels included in Sotheby's sale, London, 6 December, 1989, no. 52 as ex collection Baron Descamps bought by Colnaghi (dealer), London, 1991 from whom purchased by James Fairfax, Sydney, 1991 collection of James Fairfax, Sydney, 1991–96 by whom presented to the NGV, through The Art Foundation of Victoria, 1996.

In 1620 Jordaens first painted Ovid’s mythological story of Mercury and Argus, a tale of the god Jupiter’s transformation of his nymph conquest, Io, into a white heifer. In jealousy Jupiter’s wife Juno sent Argus, disguised as a herdsman, to watch Io, but was foiled when Jupiter dispatched Mercury to lull Argus to sleep and decapitate him. The painting, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, displayed Jordaen’s flamboyant use of colour, lighting and fluid countour. It was so well-known that Jean-Antoine Watteau reproduced it in his 1721 sign for the Paris picture dealer Gersaint. Fifteen years later Jordaens, by then a leading Flemish painter, produced this smaller replica.