About this artwork

'Il Contento' illustrates an episode in the Spanish picaresque novel 'Guzman de Alfarache', published by Mateo Alemán in Madrid in 1599 and issued in an Italian version in 1606. In the story, the people on Earth worshipped the god Contento (god of contentment and happiness) more than any other. Jealous of this, Jupiter sent Mercury to abduct Contento and replace him with his twin brother Discontento. Elsheimer was the first artist ever to depict this story, but he deviated from the novel by turning Contento into a female goddess. On the left, Jupiter hovers in mid-air while directing Mercury, who is seen wearing his distinctive winged hat and pulling Contento above the devoted crowd. In the background, people enjoy a variety of sports and games, unaware of their imminent ‘discontentment’.

  • title: Il Contento
  • accession number: NG 2312
  • artist: Adam ElsheimerGerman (1578 - 1610)
  • gallery: Scottish National Gallery(On Display)
  • object type: Painting
  • date created: About 1607
  • measurements: 30.00 x 42.00 cm (framed: 45.70 x 57.80 x 3.30 cm)
  • credit line: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Gallery of Scotland, 1970
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

Adam Elsheimer

Adam Elsheimer

Elsheimer specialised in detailed brilliantly coloured paintings on copper. He combined figures and landscape vistas with precision and delicacy paying particular attention to the effects of light. His work was greatly admired and profoundly influenced many artists in Rome, especially those from Northern Europe, including Rubens and Claude. Elsheimer was born and trained as a painter in Frankfurt. He travelled to Venice and stayed there for two years before moving permanently to Rome. Tintoretto's paintings in Venice exerted a lasting influence on his own short career. Knowledge of his compositions spread through the circulation of prints made from them.