The present work is after the lost painting by Rubens which was previously in the collectoin of Philip IV of Spain. Until recently there has been uncertainty surrounding the painting's subject. Dr Rüdiger Klessmann, in his article: A Lost Painting by Rubens and its Meaning (Shop Talk, Studies in Honour of Seymour Slive, Harvard,1995, p. 137-142), proposes the argument for the composition being based on the early 17th Century novel Don Quixote. He argues that the eccentrically attired figure in the centre of the composition is the hero of Cervantes' novel (noting that since the wandering knight was without a helmet, he made one out of cardboard). The figure wearing the red cap, embracing a young woman, on the far right of the composition is possibly that of his accompanying squire, Sancho Panza. From behind this amorous couple an unruly band of soldiers have appeared bearing weapons. Don Quixote occasionally encounters these men of La Santa Hermandad, a Spanish militia that maintained order on the roads and in the provinces. Seated below the central character is an incongruously elegant young lady, whom Kressmann suggests is the Dulcinea del Toboso, the object of Quixote's courtly love.
The original painting by Rubens passed from the royal collection of Philip IV in Madrid to the Colonna princes in Rome. In 1751, whilst in Rome, Jean Honoré Fragonard, who at the time was preparing a series of illustrations for a new edition of Don Quixote, made a drawing (Private Collection, Zurich) after the picture in the Palazzo Colonna.