This overtly comical composition is based on an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, published by the celebrated printer Hieronymus Cock (at his Antwerp publishing house, made famous under the name 'Aux quatre vents', 'In de Vier Winden') in 1562. The second state of the print attributes the invention of the composition to Pieter Bruegel ('Brueghel Invë.'), and may record a lost painting or drawing by the great Flemish purveyor of rustic satire, proverbial wisdom and perceptive commentary on the human condition. Two further states were issued by the publishers Theodore Galle and C.J. Visscher.
The subject of a travelling peddler of trinkets and material luxuries who falls asleep on the road, only to become the unwitting victim of mischievous simians fascinated by his frivolous wares, is encountered in European art for several centuries before Bruegel, first in the marginalia of Gothic manuscript illumination and subsequently in Italian, German and Netherlandish graphic works. The iconography casts the ape as a symbol of the pretentiousness, follies and vanity of mankind, and echoes the role of apes in Aesop's fables and other commonplace tales.