Seated Figure of Mercury

Artist: Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, Parma 1503–1540 Casalmaggiore)

Date: 1503–40

Medium: Black chalk

Dimensions: 12 x 8 1/8in. (30.5 x 20.6cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Purchase, Florence B. Selden Bequest, Charles and Jessie Price Gift, and Harry G. Sperling Fund, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.154


This study evidently was inspired by Michelangelo's fresco of the prophet Jonah on the Sistine Ceiling (ca. 1508–12), which suggests that the drawing dates from shortly after Parmigianino arrived in Rome in 1524. The seated nude youth holds at least one of the typical attributes of the god Mercury in his hands—the winged hat at the left—while the stick at the right probably is meant to evoke the caduceus. The artist combined a sfumato modeling technique, which is still indebted to his master Correggio, with the sculptural monumentality of the antique and Renaissance works that he saw in Rome. It is possible that this study is preparatory for a lost painting of Mercury by Parmigianino listed in the 1561 inventory of works belonging to his patron Francesco Baiardo. A small earlier sketch for the same figure is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The pose of Mercury, with an elongated torso and sharply foreshortened legs, indicates that the painting or fresco was to be seen from below. The erroneous inscription F. Boucher at the lower left was added by an early collector.