Jacob Toorenvliet trained initially in Leiden under his father Abraham (c.1620-1692), a drawing master and glass painter, who is better known as the first teacher of Frans van Mieris and Matthijs Naiveu. Jacob had a precocious talent for painting and it is known that he was already active as a portraitist by the time of his fifteenth birthday. In 1670 he left for Rome and from 1673 he lived and worked in Venice where Houbraken records that he met and married his wife. He is thought to have spent time in Vienna in the late 1670s and by 1680 was back in Holland when he took a pupil, Jacob van der Sluis, in Amsterdam. He returned to Leiden in 1682.
Toorenvliet's oeuvre is bound in the tradition of the Leiden fijnschilders and his training under his father no doubt introduced him to the techniques of rendering objects and textures in minute detail. His early output, consisting mainly of humble interior scenes, reveals this technical ability, as evinced for example by the Woman spinning, dated 1667, in the Staatliche Kunshalle, Karlsruhe. The present work most probably dates from shortly after his return to Leiden. This stage of his career is more difficult to chart owing to the paucity of dated works but his oeuvre from these mature years is characterised by the more anecdotal nature of his subjects and his tendency to depict figures in full-length (E.J. Sluijter, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Leidse Fijnschilders, Zwolle and Leiden, 1988, p. 245). The figure types and the palette employed here are not unlike those in a painting of 1686 depicting a Musician and a maidservant by a column, sold at Christie's, Amsterdam, 27 November 1986, lot 75. If that picture was more overtly Italian in character, the present work reveals the strong influence of Cornelis Bega whose work Toorenvliet must have come to admire. The subject, in which a man is shown spinning yarn and tending his child in a humble interior while being chided by his wife, seems to be a deliberate play on the classic role-reversal story of Hercules and Omphale which in baroque Italy was used to illustrate the idea of woman's domination over man.