Jacob Duck's main artistic debt is to the guardroom and brothel scenes of his Amsterdam contemporaries Willem Duyster (1598/89-1635) and Pieter Codde (1599-1678). Duck, who came quite late to painting began depicting guardroom scenes in the 1630s. The eighty-year struggle to throw off the yoke of Spain made soldiers familiar figures in the northern Netherlands, and brothel scenes were a natural development from Duck's military subjects. Earlier examples, such as this one, are unified by a semi-monochrome treatment of the interior, a palette of browns and beiges also found in the work of Duyster and Codde. Local color is here provided by the prostitutes' flashy clothes and the supple leather, lace and ribbons of the officers' costumes. Duck clearly delights in pointing out the phallic objects among the domestic detritus of this brothel/drinking house: the pistol propped by the door, the mop invading the open door, the hat covering a chair leg, the pipes in the rack, the uncut candles by the fire, the pestle in the mortar, the pipe by the foot warmer. Just in case we had missed the message, the soldier on the far right angles his slender beer glass towards the couple ascending the stairs at the left. The old crone going down the stairs behind the prostitute is another stock figure of brothel scenes, a reminder that a woman's beauty is skin-deep and transient.
On the wall above the fireplace is a painting of a woman holding a glass of wine with a bass viol resting against the table at which she sits. This motif appears in a number of Duck's paintings, including one in the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest. This reminds us that sine Baccho friget Venus (love grows cold without wine) and that the making of music is often used in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, from Terbrugghen to Vermeer, to comment on the harmonies of sexual attraction. In this painting within a painting the bass viol (suitably shaped, representing the absent male) awaits awakening by a touch.
Duck painted another, more simplified version of this Bordello scene, without the paintings and domestic objects on the walls (whereabouts unknown; panel 15 x 21¼ in (38 x 54 cm). Despite its low-life subject, there is evidence that Duck's work was targeted at middle-class audiences, a case of nostalgie de la boue. Wayne Franits notes that his louche depictions of sleeping figures regularly sold for seventy to eighty guilders, the equivalent of two months' salary for a middle-class man. The present Bordello scene may present a low-life subject, but the skill lavished on the composition, still-life elements and the finery of the participants is designed to appeal to a connoisseur.