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The unusual subject of this painting comes from one of Aesop's fables. In his Man and the Satyr, he related how a demigod helped a peasant who was lost on a wintry day. When the mortal put his chilled fingers to his mouth to breathe warmth onto them, the immortal satyr was astonished. Later, in thanks for the satyr's guidance, the peasant invited him to eat. The soup being hot, the man blew on his spoon to cool it. Johann Liss portrayed the tale's climax when the satyr jumps up in disgust, proclaiming, "From this moment I renounce your friendship, for I will have nothing to do with one who blows hot and cold with the same breath" -- the moral being that all humans are hypocrites because they inconsistently blow hot and cold.

Johann Liss was among the initiators of the dynamic baroque style of the 1600s. The sonorous color scheme shows his knowledge of past Venetian masters such as Titian and Veronese, while the dramatic conflict of light and shadow reveals an acquaintance with the spotlighting which Caravaggio concurrently employed in Rome. But the main influences here are the energized movement and robust figure types derived from the contemporary Antwerp geniuses, Jacob Jordaens and Peter Paul Rubens.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF


Aron de Joseph de Pinto [d. 1785], Spain and The Netherlands, by 1780.[1] Lopes Leao de Laguna, The Netherlands.[2] (Leo Nardus [1868-1955], Suresnes, France, and New York); sold 1897 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from the Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Johann Liss, Rathaus, Augsburg, Germany; The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-1976, no. A10.

Technical Summary

The support is composed of six pieces of linen sewn together. The main body of the painting is formed by two pieces with a vertical seam just left of center, while four small pieces of fabric, 9 cm in height, are joined in a narrow strip across the top of the painting. The plain-weave linen is of medium-fine threads, unevenly spun, and is moderately tightly woven. Although the original tacking margins are no longer extant, presumably only a very small amount was removed and the painting is close to its original size. The ground is made up of two layers, a thick red lower layer and a thin black upper one. The few pentimenti that are visible indicate minor adjustments in contours: the peasant's hair was extended farther out at the front, the bottom of the mother's right cheek was made fuller, and the lengths of one finger each on the satyr's left and child's right hand were altered. There are scattered losses in the ground and paint layers near the edges and along the tears, with a few along the top horizontal seam, and small losses elsewhere. There is extensive and disfiguring abrasion throughout. The impasto in the areas of white paint, such as in the infant's dress and the mother's sleeve, has been flattened by previous relinings. There are several long tears in the support: on the child's forehead, at the center of the satyr's chest, on the peasant's arm, and between the peasant's arm and body; these have been mended and are now aligned and in plane.


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