As befits his peripatetic career, the artist is known variously as Johann Liss (or Lis), Jan Lys, or Giovanni Lys. It is usually assumed that he was born c. 1597. The most important source of information remains the account given in Joachim von Sandrart's Teutsche Academie der edlen Bau-bild-und Mahlerey-Künste, published in 1675. Sandrart states that Johann Liss was from the north German city of Oldenburg, a region not known for its artists, and from there he emigrated to Amsterdam where he painted in the manner of Hendrick Goltzius. Liss then went to Paris, Venice (around or shortly after 1620) and Rome (c. 1623-c. 1626) before returning to Venice, where his name appeared on the list of the painters' guild in 1629. Sandrart was acquainted with Liss in Venice and comments on both his love of Venetian painting and his irregular work habits, long absences, probably spent in riotous living, followed by days and nights of uninterrupted painting. It is now documented that Liss died not in Venice in the plague of 1629/1630, but in Verona on 5 December 1631.
Establishing an exact chronology of the artist's extant works has proved to be a difficult task. His works remained unknown until relatively recently and were often attributed to other artists. His paintings and drawings, produced in a little over a decade, underwent numerous stylistic transformations, and there are few fixed points of reference. There are, for example, no works that can securely be given to the early years in the Netherlands. There is no evidence for his activity in Paris, but works exist from the first trip to Venice, Rome, and the final Venetian years.
[Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1993: 120.]
Steinbart, Kurt. Johann Liss. Berlin, 1940.
Antoniazzi, Elisabetta. "Addenda: La data di morte di Johann Liss." Arte Veneta 29 (1975): 306.
Johann Liss. Exh. cat. Rathaus, Augsburg; The Cleveland Museum of Art. Augsburg, 1975.
Amelung, Peter. "Die Stammbücher des 16./17. Jahrhunderts als Quelle der Kultur-und Kunstgeschichte." Zeichnung in Deutschland. Deutsche Zeichner 1540-1640. 2 vols. Exh. cat. Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1979-1980: 2:221, note 36.
Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1993: 120.