Italian School
A Mythological Scene: The figure of Mercury-Anubis and a Two Headed Dragon

PROVENANCE: Private collection, New York.

Inscribed in pen and brown ink 'MERCVRIUS', pen and brown ink

47 x 85 mm. (1 7/8 x 3 3/8 in.)


This drawing has been dated to circa 1450.1 Our drawing is comparable to a number of prints of this period. In particular the inscription MERCVRIUS is written vertically down the sheet, and this format can be seen in a number of prints from this period. The Master of 1515 engraved a picture of Hercules and Antaeus and is in turn after another engraving of the same subject, which itself copies a lost drawing by Andrea Mantegna. This type of inscription can also be seen on another print of the same subject by Giovanni Antonio da Brescia. 2

Peter Windows has compared our drawing to one, in the Robert Lehman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum which also happens to be of a mythological subject. It shows a bearded figure running to the right, with what looks like a shield and possibly a handful of flowers. I know yours is a much smaller drawing, but the figure, at least the lower half, seemed to me to show similarities. The form of the legs and feet, in particular, and the graphic style, the hatching and the outlines. The Lehman drawing is attributed to the Veronese School in the middle of the 15th century or later, and may be by a follower of Stefano da Verona. The figure has been variously identified as Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter. 3

Dr Evelyn Karet has also commented from a photograph, this is probably an anonymous Veronese but not necessarily the same as in my R21. The short parallel strokes and emphatic outlines are characteristic of Veronese drawings in the first half of the Quattrocento. 4

The standing figure on the left with the head of a dog appears to conform to the type known as Mercury-Anubis, a traditional conflation of the Roman deity with the Egyptian jackal-headed god. It is possible the scene may depict the myth in which Mercury sees two snakes fighting and separates them with his bare staff. The snakes then entwine themselves round the staff, to form a caduceus. 4

1.Professor Paul Joannides, July 2013, verbal inspection of the original.

2.Exhibition catalogue, Andrea Mantegna, Royal Academy of Arts, 17 January-5 April, 1992, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 9 May-12 July 1992, number 88 and 94.

3.Written communication 1 November 2013, Evelyn Karet, The Drawings of Stefano da Verona and his Circle and the Origins of Collecting in Italy: A Catalogue Raisonn (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Philosophical Society, 2002).

4.Written communication, 17 November 2013.

5.Written communication 5 and 17 November 2013, Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods (New York, 1953; repr. Princeton, 1995), pp. 166 (n. 40), figs 65-66, and 238.