The extensive artistic production of Diego de Velázquez has left us a good number of works that tell us about the ability and genius of the baroque artist to execute his canvases. In this sense, we must point out how Velázquez's production was not based solely on paintings but also that, in the last stage of his life, the Sevillian artist also worked as a designer in the decoration of the Alcázar of Madrid. The Madrid palace was redecorated due to the visit of Marshal de Gramont to Madrid to arrange the marriage between the daughter of the monarch Felipe IV of Austria, the infanta María Teresa de Austria, and the French monarch Luis XIV.
Velázquez was in charge of organizing the decoration of what is known as the Hall of Mirrors in which artists of the stature of Juan Carreño or Francisco Rizi participated. The entire iconographic cycle was based on mythological scenes in which the artists displayed their best qualities. Diego de Velázquez reserved for himself the spaces that he considered the most complicated, the canvases that he had to hang above the windows with a horizontal format and a complicated perspective.
Of the four canvases that Velázquez painted for The Hall of Mirrors only the one we are analyzing here remains, since the other three were destroyed in a terrible fire that took place in the first half of the eighteenth century. the work countswith a horizontal format measuring about two and a half meters wide and just over meter twenty high. Its dating is approximately around the year 1659, the date on which the restoration work on the Alcázar was completed.
Based on Ovidio Velázquez's Metamorphoses, he represents a painting with a mythological theme in which the death of Argos at the hands of Mercury is represented. Zeus, father of the gods, fell in love with the young Ío despite being married to Hera. In order to trick his wife, the father of the gods transformed the young woman into a calf, but since her wife suspected her infidelity, he commissioned Argos, the hundred-eyed giant, to watch over the animal. Zeus sent Mercury so that with the melody of his flute he would put the hundred eyes of the giant to sleep and be able to rescue Io from his surveillance. This is precisely the moment that the painter captures on his canvas, when Mercury ste althily approaches the giant to end his life.
The characters adjust to the horizontal format of the canvas as well as to the viewer's perspective which forces the artist to render a scene that is calmer than he would like, with the giant already asleep and a Mercury crawling to the side of him. In the background we see the image of the calf that appears behind the god.
Velázquez's characters occupied a large part of the canvas, these being almost life-size, however the canvas was later modified by adding two horizontal bands at the top and bottom.