CAMPEN, Jacob van
(b. 1596, Haarlem, d. 1657, Amersfoort)
Mercury, Argus and Io1630s
Oil on canvas, 204 x 193 cm
Mauritshuis, The Hague
After his return from Italy to Haarlem, van Campen presumably was in contact with the Utrecht Caravaggisti, thanks to the large landed estate his family owned near Amersfoort, about twenty kilometres from Utrecht. His close connection to Amersfoort would have enabled him to stay abreast of their innovative paintings, and as he commuted between Amersfoort and Haarlem, he could have kept his colleagues informed of the latest news from Utrecht. Van Campen's own rare paintings of this period indicate that at the time he was an accomplished Caravaggist.
The subject of the painting is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Io, the beautiful daughter of the river god Inachus, fell prey to the passion of Jupiter, who - in order to hide her from his jealous wife - turned the girl into a cow. The wily Juno talked her husband into giving her the fine-looking animal and had the hundred-eyed Argus guard it. Jupiter gave Mercury the task of killing the wicked guard. The inventive god approached the meadows and played songs on his pipe. The guard was charmed by the new and masterful melodies, and was lulled to sleep. Mercury beheads the sleeping guardian.