Mercury and Aglauros

about 1645–47
Carel Fabritius (Dutch, 1622–1654)


72.4 x 91.1 cm (28 1/2 x 35 7/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Art of the Netherlands in the 17th Century Gallery (Gallery 242)





In Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the Roman myth of the mortal Aglauros. According to the story, the god Mercury falls in love with Aglauros’s sister Herse and offers Aglauros gold to bring him to her. Poisoned with jealousy by the goddess Minerva, Aglauros refuses. Here Fabritius depicts the moment just before Mercury turns Aglauros to stone. A student of Rembrandt, Fabritius’s dramatic lighting and very human portrayal reflect his teacher’s influence.


March 21, 1763, anonymous sale, Hôtel des Américains, Paris, lot 117a. June 19, 1764, [Pierre Lebrun], Hôtel d’Aligre, Paris, lot 20a. January 14, 1765, Nicolas de Largillière and others sale, Roi des Indes, Paris, lot 71a. December 2, 1765, anonymous (M. l’Abbé […]) sale, Roi des Indes or Hôtel des Amériquains, Paris, lot 101a. December 15, 1766, anonymous sale, Roi des Indes or Hôtel des Américains, Paris, lot 86, sold to Vincent Donjeux (dealer). December 2, 1768, anonymous sale, at the dentist Mr. Hallée’s premises, Paris, lot 28. 1771, Pierre Lebrun (b. about 1700 - d. 1771); November 18, 1771, Pierre Lebrun sale, Lebrun’s premises on the rue de l’Arbre-Sec, Paris, lot 80. 1776, Antoine Joseph Eslacs du Bouquet, marquis d'Arcambal (b. 1727 - d. 1789), Paris; February 22, 1776, Marquis d'Arcambal sale, Hôtel d'Aligre, Paris, lot 11a, sold to Jacques Langlier (dealer). February 23, 1778, Armand-Frédéric-Ernest Nogaret and others sale, Hôtel d'Aligre, Paris, lot 57, sold to Pierre-François Basan (b. 1723 - d. 1797), Paris [see note 1]. 1851, sold by a merchant on the rue Saint Georges, Paris [see note 2]. 1854, acquired in Paris by Francis Brooks (b. 1824 - d. 1891), Boston [see note 3]; 1891, by inheritance to Louise Winsor (Mrs. Francis) Brooks (b. 1835 - d. 1892), Boston; 1903, sold by the estate of Mrs. Francis Brooks to the MFA for $27,500. (Accession Date: July 1, 1903)

[1] For information on these eighteenth-century sales, see Josua Bruyn, “Addenda en registers,” Oud Holland, 109, nos. 1/2 (1995), p. 107, n. 29; Josua Bruyn, “Fabritius’s Early Mythological Paintings in Paris Auctions 1764-1771,” Oud Holland, 119, nos. 2/3 (2006), pp. 90-92; Sophie Raux, "Carel Fabritius in eighteenth-century Paris," Burlington Magazine, February 2012, pp. 103-106; Sophie Raux, “Letter: The provenance of Carel Fabritius’s ‘Mercury and Argus’ and ‘Mercury and Aglauros’,” Burlington Magazine, February 2013, p. 97. Raux (2013, p. 97) speculated that the sales held between 1763 and 1768 were “organized by him [Lebrun] for the purpose of selling items from his own stock,” though there is no compelling evidence confirming Lebrun’s ownership of the MFA’s painting, which changed hands at least four times between 1763 and 1768, much before its appearance in his 1771 posthumous sale. In the sales held between 1763 and 1768, the painting was attributed to Rembrandt. In the sales held between 1771 and 1778 it was attributed to Johann Liss. In the four sales held between 1763 and 1765, and the two further ones in 1776 and 1778 (but not those of 1766, 1768, and 1771), the painting was accompanied by a second painting, also thought to be by Liss and considered a pendant, representing Mercury and Argus, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and likewise attributed to Fabritius. [2] E. Durand-Gréville, "La Peinture aux États-Unis," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 36, no. 1 (1887), p. 66, according to whom it was offered with a group of pictures. [3] According to the will of Francis Brooks. When it was in his possession, it was attributed to Rembrandt (as it was falsely signed, "Rembrandt, 1652") and was thought to represent Danae, or the "Shower of Gold." Mr. Brooks wrote: "This picture I had for months in Dresden, in the Gallery," although the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, was unable to confirm that it had ever been on loan there (letter to the MFA, March 2, 1939). It was not attributed to Fabritius until 1986; see Frederik J. Duparc, “A ‘Mercury and Aglauros’ reattributed to Carel Fabritius,” Burlington Magazine, November 1986, pp. 799-802.

Credit Line

Martha Ann Edwards Fund