The attribution to Johann Liss for this hitherto unknown picture has been kindly endorsed by Dr. Rüdiger Klessmann, to whom we are grateful, after inspection of the original (verbal communication, 3 February 2006).
The present composition is closely related to a picture (oil on copper, 23.3 x 17.8 cm.) of the same subject in the Walraff-Richartz Museum, Cologne (see fig. 1). Noteable differences are the slightly more upright figure of Saint Anthony in the present lot which becomes visible when comparing the head and left hand of the saint. In addition, the hand and vessel of the young woman in the present work is more tilted as in the Cologne picture and her left arm is exposed. The creature above the head of the Saint is totally different in both pictures as well as the burning city in the background. Liss also decided to add a further creature in the lower right hand corner which is missing in the Cologne composition.
A composition of the same subject is already mentioned by Joachim von Sandrart. In his highly personal account of the artist, made when he was Liss' guest in Venice in 1629 (Academie der Bau-, Bild-, und Mahlerey-Künste von 1675, ed. A.R. Peltzer, Munich, 1925, pp. 187-8), he describes 'eine Tentation S. Antonii sehr seltsam, jedoch freundlich, da der alte glatzkopfigte Eremit, von wunder-seltsamen erdichten Gespenstern, Lichtern und Weibsbildern angefochten wird'.
Dr. Klessmann believes that the present composition may well be the earlier executed painting on copper due to its looser execution when compared with the Cologne painting. A recently discovered drawing (see fig. 2) (see R. Klessmann, Johann Liss, eine Monographie mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Doornspijk, 1999, pp. 184-5, cat. no. D21, pl. 60) appears to be a preparatory study for both compositions. Klessmann points out that the basic composition is based on an engraving by Lucas van Leyden (see J.P. Filedt Kok, et. al, Lucas van Leyden (The New Hollstein) Rotterdam, 1996, no. 117).
He further states, in the case of the Cologne picture, which could be applied to the present lot that the influence of Adam Elsheimer is apparent. The jewel-like quality of the present picture, with its contrast of dense colours, sparkling light and the small-scale format and use of a copper support reflects Liss's continuing kinship with his fellow-countryman Adam Elsheimer.
Klessmann also points out that the figure of the temptress in a golden yellow dress shows affinities with the figure in Hercules at the Crossroads (the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden) and is similar in execution to the courtesan in red in The Prodigal Son (Saul S. Steinberg Collection, New York). Dr. Spear (see R. Spear, 'Johann Liss Reconsidered', The Art Bulletin, LVIII, 1976, pp. 582-9) believes that Liss' model for the female figure in The Morra Players (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kassel) could be the same model as for the figure in Cologne and therefore in the present composition.