The J. Paul Getty Museum

Landscape with Mercury and Argus

Object Details


Landscape with Mercury and Argus


Unknown maker, Flemish, 16th century




about 1570


Oil on panel

Object Number:



35.6 × 45.7 cm (14 × 18 in.)

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Object Description

A high horizon line provides a bird's-eye view into a vast, lush valley filled with moist air, and gradations of tone and atmospheric perspective define distance. The painting smoothly draws the viewer into the landscape, following an S-shaped journey beginning with the mythological figures at the lower right, continuing on the road at left, and winding back into the distant harbor below.

The narrative story in the lower right corner takes place without much fanfare: the mythological figures simply have equal status as compositional elements with the trees and cliffs. Mercury, the standing figure, lulls the seated Argus to sleep with his flute, thus leaving the beautiful white cow--a transformation of the nymph Io--unguarded.

This artist was not chiefly interested in the myth, but he or she needed an excuse for painting a landscape. Artists of the 1500s usually presented their landscapes as settings for myths or Biblical stories. Despite the burgeoning market for pictures featuring landscapes, landscape was not yet considered an independent subject.

- 1971

Private Collection [sold, Sotheby's, London, December 8, 1971, lot 87, to the J. Paul Getty Museum, in same lot as companion, Landscape with Orpheus.]
Note: as Cornelis Massys


Sotheby's, London. Important Old Master Paintings. December 8, 1971, p. 60, no. 87, ill.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 42, ill.