Lot 74
  • 74

Johann Heiss

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Johann Heiss
  • Vulcan surprising Venus and Mars in bed before an assembly of the gods

  • signed and dated lower right on balustrade: JHeiss 1679

  • oil on canvas

  • 53 1/8 x 77 1/2 inches


Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby's, 11 January 1996, lot 114;
There purchased by the present collector.


P. Koenigfeld,  Der Maler Johann Heiss, 1982, p. 173, cat. no. 125;
P. Koenigfeld,  Der Maler Johann Heiss: Memmingen und Augsburg 1640-1704, Weissenhorn 2001, pp. 24, 284, cat. no. A39. reproduced in color, fig. 25.

Catalogue Note

The scene represented is described both in the Odyssey (VIII: 166-365) and in Ovid's Metamorphoses (IV: 171-189). The god Helios, spying Venus and Mars secretly in bed together, informed the god Vulcan of his wife's faithlessness. In order to catch the lovers in an act of infidelity, Vulcan forged a net of bronze so fine that it was invisible to the naked eye. This he placed over his wife's couch so as to entrap her with Mars at their next tryst. Sure enough, they were thus ensnared, and Vulcan called upon all of the other Olympians to witness in his favor. Heiss has chosen this most dramatic moment to represent the cuckholded god as he makes his case before his peers. In order, however, to cut the tension of the scene with a dash of charming humor, Heiss has added the god Chronos (Time) (see detail) seated at the back getting a better view with a magnifying loupe (see detail).

It is interesting to note that the present composition relates to another mythological picture by Heiss of Vulcan Presenting Pandora to the Gods in the Liechtenstein collection. That painting, which is smaller in size than the present work, has a very similar disposition of figures, with Vulcan showing his creation to the other deities, but in the reverse sense of the present picture. The subject of Vulcan must have intrigued Heiss, as he returned to him in yet another composition, depicting Venus and Mars in Vulcan’s Forge (1675; Sibiu, Brukenthal Museum).

Dated 1679, the painting was executed more than a decade after Heiss began his career in the service of Eberhard VIII, Duke of Württemberg (circa 1663–4) . After his time under the patronage of the Eberhard VIII, Heiss returned to his native Memmingen, where he was commissioned for a number of important altarpieces in and around Upper Swabia, though he probably painted this picture in Augsburg, where he eventually settled in the 1670's.