The scene is from the Odyssey, Book VI: Nausicaa, Princess of Phæcia, is visited by the goddess Athena in a dream, who instructs her to take her serving maids to the river to wash her costly robes. After finishing their laundry, the princess and her maidens eat, and shortly thereafter encounter the shipwrecked Odysseus. Van den Hoecke depicts the moment as the laundry is being finished and the meal prepared, shortly before the appearance of the wandering hero. At right, some of the maidens are still using the 'washing trenches' mentioned by Homer (Book VI, line 93), while at centre others bring plates laden with fruit. In contrast to his contemporary Jacob Jordaens, whose paintings delight in finding moments of the commonplace in scenes of high literature, van den Hoecke invests all details of the scene with the utmost dignity, transforming Nausicaa's mule-driven cart into a chariot pulled by elegant horses. Van den Hoecke assisted Sir Peter Paul Rubens with the execution of designs for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi... in 1635, and increasingly came under the influence of Rubens and Hendrick van Balen I--as is demonstrated by the present picture, the only known work of this period.
We are grateful to Professor Elizabeth McGrath for her help with this note.