Klaus Ertz dates this painting to the beginning of the 1590s, when Brueghel was in Rome, although he raises the possibility that it might have been painted slightly earlier, just before the artist left Flanders. The luminous handling of the foliage and the tree trunk is however entirely consistent with Brueghel's work in Rome in the early 1590s. The influence of Gillis van Coninxloo's forest landscapes is palpable in this and Brueghel's other woodland settings. Brueghel may have met Coninxloo in Frankenthal when he was en route
from Antwerp to Italy. In many of Jan Brueghel's narrative subjects set in wooded landscapes from later in the 1590, the figures are painted by other artists, for example Hans Rottenhammer, with whom Brueghel worked from about 1595 onwards, but at the start of the decade he had yet to develop contacts with such collaborators. The wooded landscape and the foliage in the present work, as well as the figure type and the hound are notably similar to other early wooded landscapes with hunting scenes on copper, such as the one in Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, a wooded landscape with a stag hunt dated by Ertz circa 1593.1
Saint Hubert, Bishop of Maastricht and later Liège in the early eighth century, had in his younger days been confronted by a stag with a crucifix between its antlers while out hunting. This brought about his conversion to Christianity. He is patron saint of hunters, and as here is clad in hunter's clothes. The subject is very similar to the Vision of Saint Eustace, but the latter is generally shown wearing armour.
1.Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. no. 458), on long-term loan to Schloss Ambras; see K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere 1569-1625, vol. I, Lingen 2008, p. 194, no. 75, reproduced. For autograph variants also dated by Ertz to the same period, see pp. 196-202, nos. 77 - 80, all reproduced.