Stylistically, this drawing can be related to the work of Rembrandt's pupils of the 1630s, and in particular Govaert Flinck. Rembrandt did, though, have a significant number of other pupils at this stage of his career, most of whose names are no longer known. The subject of Balaam's Ass has a long history in Dutch art, and was most memorably treated by Rembrandt in his early (1626) painting, in the Musée Cognac-Jay, Paris. The composition of the present drawing is not particularly close to that of Rembrandt's painting, but it shows none the less that an interest in the subject persisted within Rembrandt's studio for some time. Another version of this drawing was recently sold, from the collection of Professor Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (New York, Sotheby's, 28 January 2018, lot 247).
Balaam was a heathen prophet summoned by the Moabitean King Balak to curse Israel. On his way to Balak the ass that he was riding refused three times to walk, because an angel was blocking the road. Balaam was unable to see the angel, so struck the ass. After the third thrashing, God spoke through the ass, saying: What have I done to you? On hearing this, Balaam repented.