The son of Jupiter and Maia and father of Cupid, Mercury is the messenger of the gods and protector of commerce whose attributes are the caduceus (a rod with two snakes coiled around it), the winged sandals, and the petasus (winged helmet). Hours after his birth, Mercury stole the bulls of Admetus that Apollo was guarding, a scene rendered by Claude Lorrain in his Landscape with Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus (1645; Rome, Galleria Doria-Pamphili). Apollo recovered the animals and Mercury gave him the lyre he had devised from a tortoise shell for which the sun god appointed him divine messenger. Mercury helped Jupiter rescue Io from Argus, the multi-eyed monster whom he lulled into a deep sleep by playing his pipes, the scene depicted by Peter Paul Rubens in his Argus and Mercury of 1635-1638 (Dresden, Alte Meister Gallerie). In Sandro Botticelli's Primavera (c. 1482; Florence, Uffizi), Mercury stirs the clouds with his caduceus, a fitting inclusion for a work commissioned by the Medici whose wealth relied on banking and commerce. Giovanni da Bologna's bronze statue of Mercury (1580; Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello) balances on the mouth of Zephirus, the west wind, to denote that he is in flight, while on the Farnese ceiling by Annibale Carracci (c. 1597-1600; Rome, Palazzo Farnese), the classicized Mercury floats in midair and hands the apple of Hesperides to Paris so he may judge the contest between Minerva, Juno, and Venus.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.


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