In the early 1860s, in an effort to regenerate history painting, Tissot was seeking new subjects and a new style. He was strongly influenced by the work of the Belgian painter and engraver Henri Leys (1815-1869). In 1855, Leys was awarded a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Critics had been delighted with the high quality of his reconstructions of centuries past through costume and architecture, the realistic poses and facial expressions, the rigorous drawing and the brightness of the colours.
It is exactly these attributes that are found in this painting of Tissot's produced five years later. Moreover, like Leys in his painting Promenade hors les murs (Belgium, Royal Collections), a painting exhibited in 1855, the young French painter took his inspiration for the subject from Goethe's Faust published in 1808. By taking their inspiration from works of literature, these artists revived the subjects of history painting.
Here he produced an eclectic pastiche of 15th and 16th century paintings: the smooth finish, the highly detailed drawing recalls the style of the German and Flemish primitives, as do the details in the decoration and the architecture.