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Standing man holding a flute next to reclining man.

A nude light-skinned man stands in front of a large boulder. In his raised left hand is a wooden flute. His right hand reaches across his body and holds a staff with two snakes. A pale cloud covers his groin and winds behind his legs. His feet have small wings at the back. Behind this man is a light-skinned man on the ground with his eyes closed. Many eyelid-like ripples appear in his forehead. His left arm is bent back at an unnatural angle. Behind the men is a valley with a reclining white cow and buildings in the distance.

Gallery Text

This portrait depicts a young man disguised as the mischievous Mercury after he has slain the hundred-eyed watchman Argus. Balancing himself on a puff of clouds as he holds a flute and caduceus (a staff entwined with snakes), he stands before a hillside that opens onto what Florentines would have recognized as a Flemish-style landscape. The Medici often identified themselves with classical gods, sometimes even assuming their guises in allegorical portraits. Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was an enthusiast of alchemy and often had himself portrayed with an image of Mercury, who was associated with the metal of the same name. The facial features of this youth, however, more closely resemble those found in portraits of Antonio de’ Medici, son of Francesco’s second wife, Bianca Cappello.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Alessandro Allori, Italian (Florence, Italy 1535 - 1607 Florence, Italy)
Allegorical Portrait of a Young Man in the Guise of Mercury Slaying Argus
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Mercury and Argus
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Italy, Tuscany, Florence
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2540, European Art, 13th–16th century, The Renaissance
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on panel
144.8 x 88.9 x 7.6 cm (57 x 35 x 3 in.)
framed: 162.7 x 104.9 cm (64 1/16 x 41 5/16 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Purchase through the generosity of Jessie Lie Farber, The Richard Norton Fund, and The Henry George Berg Bequest Fund, Gift in Gratitude to John Coolidge
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2540 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

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