Mercury à la David in Italian Renaissance Art

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Antiquated representations of Mercury shown with the slain head of Argus began to appear at a time when fifteenth-century humanism was taking an interest in the Homeric epithets of pagan gods, and when artists were aspiring to represent these gods in the same way that the ancients had rendered them in word and image. While the objects surrounding Mercury could be copied from his images on ancient coins and gems, the slain head of Argus was known about only from the ancient texts and the commentaries on them. These representations of the god with his grisly trophy appear to have been patterned on Donatello's statues representing David in the triumphal mode. However, whereas David's victory over Goliath bore positive connotations for Christian spectators, Mercury's victory over Argus was interpreted both in bono and in malo. The placement of Mercury in a similar stance to that of David, shown with the trophy next to his feet, was intended to direct contemporary spectators to perceive Mercury's deed as prefiguring David's victory over Goliath and, then, as anticipating the victory of Christ over Devil.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to) 135-157, 281-284
Number of pages27
JournalAnnali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011


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