Mercury, 1611, canvas, 214 x 120 cm
Hendrick Goltzius (Mühlbracht 1558 - Haarlem 1617)
First, the subject of this painting was one of my favorite gods - Mercury, youthful, lithe, swift and elegant. Second, he was the patron of the arts and god of rhetoric - the fields I valued highly. The only reservation I had about this version of Mercury lay in the fact that he was more a man than a youth, even more so than Michelangelo’s David, massive, yet not ungraceful.
The museum’s website described the god as “recognizable by his winged helmet, the snake-entwined caduceus and a cockerel. In this version, his caduceus looks very much like a maulstick. At Mercury’s feet He drawing attributes, a set square, compasses, a drawing and an album of drawing patterns. Behind him stands a girl sticking her tongue out and holding a rattle and a magpie. In this painting. too, wisdom and stupidity are united: the girl symbolizes foolish prattle.”
What I liked most of the painting was the forward leaning pose of the god and his purposeful and determined look, and the wonderful rendering of his marvelous masculine body, if I could momentarily disassociate this powerful figure from the Mercury of my own concept. I also found the cockerel at his feet very intriguing and its symbolism though escaped me. Perhaps a reference to the dominating and warrior like nature of Greek gods? Perhaps a reflection of Mercury, in its equally forward leaning pose?