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Relief - Mercury and Argus

Mercury and Argus

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (made)

  • Date:

    1775 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Xavery, Theodore (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ivory relief framed in a gold rim with ring at top

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR7

This ivory relief was perhaps made by T (Theodore?) Xavery in the Netherlands in ca. 1775.
The monochrome colouring of material meant that ivories such as this could ape in miniature the ancient marbles much valued by connoisseurs and collectors of the time. In the story from classical mythology, the all-seeing giant Argus was murdered by Mercury at the instruction of Jupiter. He had been sent by Juno to watch over Io, whom Jupiter wished to seduce.
The ivory is worked very finely, so that if held up to the light, the figures in high relief stand out against the flat translucent background.

Physical description

Mercury seated under a tree on the left, wearing his winged helmet, is shown playing his pipe, the caduceus lying on the ground beside him, lulling the all-seeing giant Argus to sleep in a wooded landscape his head supported on his left hand; his right hand rests on his staff. From behind a tree on the right emerges Io in the form of a heifer.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (made)


1775 (made)


Xavery, Theodore (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Ivory relief framed in a gold rim with ring at top


Height: 9 cm horizontal, whole, Height: 7.5 cm vertical, ivory alone

Object history note

Bought from Cyril Humphris, Ltd., for £30, in 1964.

Descriptive line

Relief, ivory, Mercury and Argus, perhaps by Theodore Xavery, Netherlands, ca. 1775

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, cat. no. 112





Subjects depicted

Staff; Tree; Caduceus; Cow


Sculpture; Reliefs; Myths & Legends; Medallions; Jewellery


Sculpture Collection

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