The composition relates closely to the work by Ambrosius' elder brother, Frans Francken II, which Dr. Ursula Härting in her 1989 monograph and catalogue raisonné of the latter's oeuvre noted may have been painted with studio assistance (Frans Francken der Jüngere, Freren, 1989, p. 200, no. 244, illustrated). The attribution of the present picture to Ambrosius Francken II was proposed by Dr. Härting, who dates the work to circa 1620.
The story of the betrothal of the Virgin derives from the Protevangelium, and was repeated in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine. They relate that Mary had been unable to choose a husband because her parents had dedicated her to the service of the Lord, and because she had vowed her virginity to God. The High Priest and Elders therefore decided to let God himself make the decision; in prayer, they were told that each marriageable man of the house of David should bring a branch to the altar. There, one of the branches would bloom, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove would come down to it, as prophesied by Isaiah. The man to whom that branch belonged would be the one intended as the Virgin's spouse.
Although Joseph was among the other men who assembled, he felt that he was too old to be suitable, and therefore held back his branch from the altar. In consequence, no rod flowered, and the High Priest sought the Lord's advice again, and was told that the only man who had not brought his branch was the one to whom the Virgin was to be espoused. Then Joseph brought his branch forward, which promptly flowered, even as a dove came down from heaven.