Elsheimer was clearly satisfied with the composition he had developed in the preparatory drawing to overcome the problem of a crowded foreground. The frieze-like arrangement of the figures has been retained, but there have been some changes. The garlanded cow and sheep assume a less significant position and some figures have been repositioned, such as the older man with outstretched arms who has been moved to the centre. In the painting, Elsheimer included a background scene, which is completely absent in the drawing. This gives the whole picture more depth as it contrasts with the foreground - it is strongly lit and the action surges towards the right. Elsheimer exploited the opposition between light and dark, left and right movement to create a coherent and masterful composition.
'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’.
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.