This charming scene of two boys singing likely dates to around 1625, a period when Bloemaert experimented frequently with Caravaggesque lighting and genre subjects. He may have been looking to the works of his former pupil Gerrit van Honthorst, who had returned to Utrecht from Italy in 1620 and began producing paintings with such themes to great acclaim. Boy with a Rumbling Pot in a private collection (Roethlisberger, op. cit., no. 398), is another composition in this same vein.
We are grateful to Prof. Dr. Marcel Roethlisberger for confirming the attribution to Bloemaert on the basis of a photograph (private communication, 24 November 2008). He considers the present picture the rediscovered original that served as the basis for a famous print by Cornelis Bloemaert which identifies his father, Abraham Bloemaert, as the author of the original painting on which it was based (fig. 1; A. Bloem pinx C.B. sculp, upper left). Cornelis' print is inscribed "Wij singen vast wat nieuws, en hebben noch een buÿt Een kraekling is ons winst, maer tliedtken moet eerst wt."('We firmly sing something new, and also have a prize A cracker is our reward, but first we must complete the song') This text draws the viewer's attention to the cracker which, as Roethlisberger points out (loc. cit.), is a traditional symbol of the brittleness of life.