Although many versions of this subject by Pieter Breughel the Younger are recorded, this previously unpublished picture appears to be one of the finest to re-emerge on the market in years. Extant versions are known from as early as 1621, and it seems he continued to produce the composition on a consistent basis, as four further examples are dated from 1622, 1624, 1633, and 1635.1
As with so many of Pieter Breughel the Younger's pictures, the design originates with his father, in the form of a finished drawing, now in the Albertina, Vienna. All of Pieter Breughel the Younger's versions of the composition are in reverse to his father's drawing, and thus probably follow the engraving produced by Hieronymous Cock's studio, for which the drawing was made. It is possible, however, that Pieter Breughel the Younger had access to a full-scale cartoon made in his father's workshop, since nearly all of the younger Breughel's treatments of the composition are on panels of very similar size, and the elements of the composition correspond closely in each. An alternative explanation for this phenomenon is that Pieter Breughel the Younger himself made a cartoon for use in his workshop, based on Hieronymus Cock's print. Even the 1621 picture2
, which is Breughel's earliest known version, is not the first treatment of the composition, as Abel Grimmer painted a free copy of Cock's print in 1607 (Antwerp, Museum voor Schone Kunsten; other undated versions by Grimmer are known).
1. K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564 - 1637/38), Lingen 2000, vol. II, pp. 589-90.
2. Formerly in the collection of Otto Wesendock, Zurich; by whose family sold London, Sotheby's, 10 July 2003, lot 11.