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Johann Liss

(circa 1597 Oldenburg, Holstein – 1631 Verona)

Cephalus and Procris. Etching. 17.7 x 24.3 cm. Nagler (Johann van der Lys) 1, Hollstein (Jan Lys) 2. Watermark: Small scroll.

This portrayal of Cephalus und Procris is one of just three etchings made by Johann Liss, a painter and draughtsman from Oldenburg. At around the age of eighteen Liss went first to Holland, where he was probably active in Amsterdam and Haarlem and was influenced, among others, by Willem Buytewech and in all likelihood Hendrick Goltzius as well. He quite possibly then made his way via Antwerp and Paris to Venice, where he arrived around 1620/21 and encountered the works of Domenico Fetti – for him an important discovery. Finally, Liss stayed in Rome from about 1622 to 1625. The influence of the Caravaggists, in particular, was significant for him here, as were the works of Annibale Carracci and Francesco Albani that he studied. His stay in Rome saw the emergence of this carefully executed and very harmoniously composed etching. An extremely rare print, it shows not the frequently depicted scene of the death of Procris, but the moment when Cephalus removes his mask after the love play designed to test his wife’s loyalty – a scene narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for instance. Procris, her face turned heavenwards with a look of guilt and desperation, recognises her husband, who stands before her with his arms outstretched in a gesture of reproach. The depiction of Procris and other details in the etching reveal unmistakable similarities to Liss’s pen-and-ink drawing Allegory of the Christian Faith now in the Cleveland Museum of Art (pen and brown ink, 15.3 x 9.4 cm, Dudley P. Allen Fund 1953.6). The etching, which Louise Richards aptly describes as the most “Roman” of his works, is distinguished by its extremely successful composition and, in particular, by the elegance of the figures and the aesthetic vigour of the linework. A very fine, clear and differentiated impression with thread margins around the platemark. From the collection of Alexandre-Pierre-François RobertDumesnil, author of the Peintre-Graveur Français (Lugt 2200). Literature: Exh. cat. Johann Liss, Augsburg / Cleveland, Augsburg 1976, p. 147, no. B 51 with fig. 54.

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