The mythological figure Mercury was patron of the arts and god of eloquence. Mercury can be recognized by his winged helmet, the snake entwined caduceus and a rooster. His staff looks very much like a painter’s maulstick. At Mercury’s feet lie drawing instruments, a carpenter’s square, a compass, a drawing and a book with model drawings. Behind him stands a girl sticking out her tongue and holding a rattle and a magpie. This painting also unites his intelligence and stupidity: the girl symbolizes foolish babbling.
For centuries, this painting of the god Mercury has been associated with two other paintings of huge nudes, the goddess Minerva and the hero Hercules. Yet, they were not painted in the same year. Hendrick Goltzius (Mühlbracht 1558 - Haarlem 1617) painted Minerva and Mercury in 1611; Hercules and Cacus followed in 1613 and were probably commissioned by the Haarlem lawyer and city administrator Johan Colterman (ca. 1565-1616), who most likely had his 22-year-old son Johan Colterman Jr. pose for the youthful and robust Hercules.
Together, the three paintings display the humanistic educational ideal. Theory (Mercury) and practice (Minerva) result in skill and virtue. Virtue is portrayed by Hercules, who defeats the evil giant Cacus.
- schilder: Hendrick Goltzius
- Date of creation
- Object type
- easel paintings (paintings by form)
- Paintings from the Frans Hals Museum
- OS-I-96 (schilderij), Kunstwerken uit het Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
- for information contact: Frans Hals Museum