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Johann LISS (Attrib.) (1597-1629) "The Cursing of Cain"

Oils on canvas, 93 x 70 cm (36.6 by 27.6 in).
Availability: Available
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  • CHARACTERISTICS

One of the most interesting problems of the art of the XVII century in Italy is the active mutual influence of the Italian school itself and the numerous "northern" masters who worked in Italy at that time. While the world of northern Caravaggisti is quite well known to researchers, numerous "little-known" masters ("little-known" in this case is a very conventional designation, each of these masters is great in its own way) are very often in the shadow of their more eminent and "serious" contemporaries.


The painter of German origin Joachim Liss (1595/ 1597-1631) was such type of masters, who, in my opinion, has not yet received the proper assessment. Being dead quite early (like some other contemporary painters, the artist fell victim to the plague that ravaged Venice in 1631), Liss left an incredibly bright artistic legacy that greatly influenced the formation of Venetian painting of the XVII century.


The early death of the painter largely explains our rather fragmented view of his legacy. On the one hand, researchers unanimously highlight the block of his indisputable works, long and well-documented. On the other hand, a large group of repetitions of various kinds, which sometimes arose during the artist's lifetime, maybe with the participation of a workshop or other painters has never been systematized.


A good example in this regard is the composition "The Curse of Cain". In this composition, Liss refers to an extremely rare iconographic plot, namely: not the murder of Abel, but the very fact of the curse of God Cain. This is a literal reflection of a quotation from the Book of Genesis. "And the Lord said to him, "Everyone who kills Cain will be avenged. And the Lord made a sign to Cain that no one would kill him if he met him. Genesis. 4:15. It is the fact of the application of the sign that attracts the attention of the painter - in the foreground we see a powerful figure of Cain, covering with his left hand his forehead, where the Lord has just put the sign.


The dramatic shade of light combined with the dynamic composition of the composition give the strongest influence of Venetian painting, and especially the art of Domenico Fetti, with whom Liss met in the 1620s in Venice and who had a strong influence on Liss. At the same time, a powerful tangible sense of touch in the interpretation of the figure of Cain, which guesses the influence of Caravaggisti (peculiar to the Liss in his Roman period) allows the work to be attributed to the very beginning of his so-called "second Venetian period" and dated 1623-25 years. Speaking of composition, it is important to note a completely fair comment of the researcher of the works of Liss, Rüdiger Klessmann about the similarity of the figure of Cain in the painting of Liss and the figure of Pluto on the chiaroscuro by Henrik Golzius.


The undisputed author's version of the painting is the work that is now in the collection of the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia. The authorship of this work was never in doubt and was accepted by all researchers. Meanwhile, it is known about at least two compositions, which with a certain degree of caution can be associated with the name of the artist. The first is in Florence, where Klessmann mistakenly associates it’s whereabouts in Palazzo Pitti. Despite the rather difficult state of the canvas, the picture reveals a certain resemblance to the undisputed works of Liss, it is manifested in a fairly cursory painting technique, masterful possession of light and, most importantly, perfectly demonstrates directly the mise en scène of what is happening. Even in the undisputed version from Norfolk we do not find such a clearly readable space in the foreground. Another version, which also shows a similarity to the undisputed paintings of Liss, was bought a few years ago by Maximowicz Gallery and is now in Bratislava. In contrast to the rather sketchy Florentine version, the latter has a much more thorough type of execution and chronologically follows the version from the Chrysler Museum.


Thus, to one indisputable work of Liss in the list of his works can be added two works marked "attributed".

 

 

Related bibliography:

Exhibition catalogue. LA PITTURA DEL SEICENTO A VENEZIA. Second Edition (BIS). Ca' Pesaro, Venice. 1959:.

Exhibition catalogue. BAROQUE PAINTINGS FROM THE COLLECTION OF WALTER P. CHRYSLER, JR.. Bowdoin College Museum of Art: Brunswick, Maine.

Robert L. Manning. ITALIAN RENAISSANCE AND BAROQUE PAINTINGS FROM THE COLLECTION OF WALTER P. CHRYSLER, JR. Norfolk: Norfolk Museum of Arts and Science. 1967

Eric M. Zafran and Mario Amaya. TREASURES FROM THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM AT NORFOLK AND WALTER P. CHRYSLER, JR. Tennessee Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood, Nashville. 1977

 

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