This scene was clearly one of which Van Haarlem was fond. Pieter van Thiel lists no less than eleven treatments of the scene by the master himself, and the multiple copies also known indicate the popularity of the scene among Van Haarlem's clientele. Van Thiel dates the present painting to 1597, and notes compositional similarities to Van Haarlem's two paintings both depicting The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the earlier dated 1592/93 and the second also dated to 1597.1 The earlier of these two is the canvas in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, in which we see the nucleus of many of the ideas and motifs visible in the present painting: the group of women leaning into each other while singing, their profiles overlapping; the man sitting astride a rock, one arm raising a goblet of wine, the other draped over the shoulder of a nearly-nude woman at his side; and the distinctive powerful nude figure of Vulcan with his back to us, in the centre of the gathering, his left leg curled underneath him, his right knee at a right angle, his arms holding up a terracotta jar from which he drinks. This figure in turn is likely to be a derivation of a figure drinking from a conch shell in a lost canvas by Van Haarlem, his Golden Age of circa 1592, now known only through a copy by Abraham van der Houve.2
A copy after this composition painted on copper and of similar dimensions (24 x 27.5 cm.) is in the Mauritshuis and bears an indistinct signature 'M' or 'CH'.3 The Mauritshuis version was considered autograph until 1972, when Wolfgang Stechow published it as coming from the circle of Van Haarlem.4 Van Thiel later confirmed in writing to Adolph Stein that he too believed the Mauritshuis version to be a copy after the present work.
1 Van Theil 1999, p. 355–57, cat. no. 159, reproduced fig. 87, and p. 353, cat. no. 155, reproduced fig. 134.
2 Now in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick; See Van Theil 1999, p. 411, cat. no. 302, reproduced fig. 86.
3 Mauritshuis: The Royal cabinet of paintings illustrated general catalogue, The Hague 1977, p. 65, cat. no. 918.
4 W. Stechow, 'Usus laetitiaeque Modis', in Art Quarterly, 1972, vol. XXXV, p. 170, cat. no. 2, reproduced pl. 7.
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