We are grateful Professor Nicolas Dacos for confirming the attribution to Congnet, on the basis of a photograph.
The artist, whose known oeuvre remains very small, trained as a painter with Lambert Wenselyns (active c. 1553) and possibly also, according to Van Mander, with Antoon van Palermo (1503/13-c. 1589), an Antwerp art dealer in whose house he lived. Shortly after becoming a Master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1561, he travelled to Italy, registering in 1568 as a member of the Accademia in Florence. Back in Antwerp by 1570, he became Dean of the Guild there in 1585, before moving to Amsterdam the following year, after the arrival in Antwerp of the Duke of Parma. Strongly influenced by Italian art, and in particular by Titian, Congnet was described by Van Mander as an outstanding colourist.
The painting depicts an episode from the story of Perseus, recounted by Ovid in his Metamorphoses: IV (using an adaption of the story of Atlas first found in the work of the dithyrambic poet, Polyidos of Selymbria). Perseus, having severed the head of the Gorgon Medusa, was flying back to King Polydectes with his prize when he became tired and landed in Hesperia, the realm of the Titan Atlas. Asking the Titan if he could rest there a while, Perseus revealed that he was the son of Zeus; this, however, brought to Atlas's mind a prophecy of Themis of Parnassus that the golden apples of his garden would one day be stolen by Zeus' son, and he therefore refused to allow Perseus shelter. The latter, in revenge, revealed the Gorgon's head, petrifying Altas so that: 'Great Atlas now became a mountain-mass as huge as he had been; his beard, his hair were changed to woods; his shoulders and his arms, to ridges; what had been his head was now a mountaintop; his bones were changed to stones.'