Mercury, Argus and Io

WAG 1995.332


A pen and brown ink/wash drawing depicting a scene from a classical mythological tale in which princess Io, one of Jupiter's many lovers, is turned into a cow by Jupiter to hide her from his wife Juno who in turn sends the shepherd Argus to guard Io. Jupiter sends his messenger Mercury to have Argus killed to free Io. The scene is set in an idyllic place, a clearing in the wood above a small village. Io is lying on the lower left foreground, gazing directly at the viewer, while her guard the giant shepherd Argus is sitting by her on a rock, with his staff resting on his shoulder, accompanied by Mercury wearing a broad-brimmed hat sitting to his left, in the centre of the canvas. Argus is examining the pipe which Mercury has just handed him and will eventually lull him to sleep when he plays it. Behind them on the left are trees, a distant village in the far right background, and more cattle in the background, some only faintly sketched. Considering that a murder is about to take place, the scene is remarkably free from any signs of menace, apart from the knowing look on Io's face.