Ludovicus - or Louis - Willemssens is thought to have trained under Artus Quellinus the Elder and to have collaborated with him on a number of projects including the marble reliefs of the present day Royal Palace in Amsterdam, built between 1648 and 1665. He became a Master of the Guild of St Luc in Antwerp, his native town, in 1661 or 1662, and died there in 1702.
Although Willemssens is known to have been held in high esteem in his own day, remarkably few of his works are known today. For the St. Jacobskerk in Antwerp, he executed the pulpit, as well as two marble figures and two confessionals. He also worked on a number of projects for the Antwerp cathedral including the altar of the Coopers' Guild, several panels of which - executed by his contemporary Guillielmus Kerricx the Elder - have re-surfaced in the art market in recent years (three reliefs were sold in these Rooms, 7 July 1991, lots 82-84 (total hammer price £50,800) and a fourth was sold, also in these Rooms, 10 December 1996, lot 71 (hammer price £24,000)). The Musées royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique possess a number of terracotta modelli (see Brussels, loc. cit.).
The practice of creating series of allegorical figures representing themes such as the Seasons, Senses, Elements or Continents, was a popular one in late 17th and 18th century Europe, not least because it provided both aesthetic appeal and intellectual challenge. Artus Quellinus the Younger is thought to have been responsible for a (now incomplete) set of marble figures of the Four Seasons in the Rijksmuseum which are stylistically very closely related to the present figures (see Leeuwenberg, loc. cit). A set of drawings of four putti representing the Four Elements by Baurscheit the Younger (Dusseldorf, op. cit., no. 194, p. 143, fig. 143a) are also closely comparable.
The iconography of the two figures is derived from a canon which was largely standardised by the time they were carved. Abundance carries ears of corn and wears wheat sheaves in his hair, signifying plentiful harvests. The torch he carries is an attribute of Ceres, the earth-mother. Prudence holds the compass, symbol of measured judgement, and the mirror, which shows that she can see herself as she really is. The books signify the Scriptures, and the eye, although originally a symbol of God, probably here refers to the foresight which a prudent person must possess.
The figures were almost certainly part of a larger sculptural garden programme, and one can easily imagine them on the terrace of a grand country house (the earliest known provenance of the Quellinus figures, mentioned above, is from the Duke of Buckingham's country house Stowe). With their complex imagery and their playful air, these figures represent a transition from the late baroque to the rococo periods in Flemish sculpture.