The son of the Haarlem still-life painter, Pieter Claesz., Nicolaes Berchem was one of the most important members of the second generation of Dutch Italianates. It remains a matter of debate whether Berchem traveled to Italy. His biographer reports that he visited the peninsula twice; Berchem supposedly undertook the first of these voyages in 1642, and the second, which is the more credible of the two, may have happened between 1650 and 1653. Certainly, there is a pronounced change in Berchem's painting toward more Italianate settings, accompanied by a more sensitive treatment of light, in his post-1650 works.
The staffage in the present painting is nearly identical to that of another work by Berchem dated 1654 in the Wallace Collection, London (see J. Ingamells, loc. cit.). Regardless of whether Berchem was able to benefit from direct exposure to Rome, he was undoubtedly inspired by his contemporaries who returned to Haarlem from the south to work in the Italianate style. At this moment in his career, the dominant influence was that of Jan Both, whose revolutionary renditions of the Italian countryside had a profound effect on him. In fact, Both's influence is so pronounced that when this painting sold in 1986, it was catalogued as a collaborative work by both artists. As Peter Sutton has observed, however, the virtuoso handling of the foliage in the trees and in the foreground "is entirely consistent with Berchem's more delicate and rapid touch" (op. cit., p. 28).
A signed painting of this subject, which appeared in the Limpurg sale, Dordrecht, 10-12 November 1953, may be identical to the present work.