Born in Amsterdam and trained in the North by Abraham Bloemaert and Claus Moeyaert, Weenix completed his artistic education with a stay in Italy that lasted four years, from 1643 to 1647. His familiarity with the Campagna and the countryside around Rome, its classical ruins and picturesque inhabitants, served him well for the remainder of his career. Indeed, the present work, one of the artist's best known and most exhibited, was executed almost a decade after his return to the Netherlands from Italy.
The scene depicts an itinerant greengrocer offering his produce to a gathering of customers from a wheelbarrow against which he reclines. A pile of vegetables and a beautifully rendered brass milk can offer Weenix the opportunity to display his skills at still life. The compositional device of the darkened archway enhances the sense of relief and emphasizes the deep recession of the landscape beyond. The subject of peddlers and the daily life of the Roman streets had long before been popularized by Pieter Van Laer and the bambocciante painters of the Dutch Italianate school.
The present painting had been misattributed to Gabriel Metsu because of a false signature that the painting carried until around 1930 when it was cleaned, and Weenix's authentic signature and the date 1656 were revealed. The picture perfectly accords with the artist's style of the 1650s, in which large-scale, colorfully dressed figures are depicted in bright sunlight and strongly contrasting shade, to created dramatic spatial effects. The present painting compares closely to Woman Sleeping beneath Ruins with an Archway in the Alte Pinacothek, Munich, and The Tinker in Viscount Allendale's collection, Stockfield, both of which are also dated 1656.
We are grateful to Dr. Anke A. Van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, who has confirmed the attribution to Weenix on the basis of firsthand inspection. Dr. Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven will include the present work in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work, Jan Baptist Weenix and Jan Weenix: Catalogue raisonné.