This minutely rendered and luminous wooded landscape sets the stage for a depiction of Latona and the Lycian Peasants
. The story is recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
(Book VI, v. 317-381), which tells of Latona, a daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Such was Latona’s beauty that she captured the devotion of Jupiter, thus becoming one of his lovers. Together they had Diana and Apollo. Upon discovering her pregnancy, Juno, Queen of the Gods and Jupiter’s wife, furiously exiled Latona, and furthermore cursed any land that facilitated the birth of Latona and Jupiter’s unborn offspring. Thus began Latona’s arduous journey to find refuge, eventually discovering the island of Delos where she gave birth. Latona ultimately settled in Lycia, in present day Turkey, and while passing through she stopped at a stream to quench her thirst. Upon viewing her, a group of territorial peasants prohibited her from drinking, and accosted her and her children as further offense. In her desperate anger, she cursed the peasants, transforming them into frogs and thus condemning them to a lifetime of bottom feeding and river dwelling. The scene which Brueghel depicts here is the very moment of transformation, as Latona grasps her infant offspring whilst simultaneously casting the shifting peasants back into the water.
The composition is known in other versions: one being a signed and 1601 dated example in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, which has tentatively been given to Jan Brueghel the Elder (Ertz 2008-2010, cat. no. 372). Another, given to Jan Brueghel the Younger, was sold London, Christie’s, 3 December 2013, lot 31 (for $318,591).