In this moving composition, an old man, his dark cloak and hat nearly melting into the blackness of his surroundings, warms his worn and dirty hands over a pot filled with burning coal. Next to him, a young boy blows on his hands to warm them. The figures are rendered with an observant, unidealized naturalism, from the old man's dirty fingernails to his ruddy cheeks and bulbous nose, and he looks solemnly out at the viewer as though acknowledging the bitter winter of his years. The young child, too, gazes out at us; his face and hands are smooth and unlined, however, with no care other than keeping warm. The artist's observation of texture and temperature is notable, with such details as the coarse grey beard of the old man and the pinpoints of white heat in the fiery embers convincingly naturalistic in their rendering.
The image of an old man warming his hands appeared frequently as an allegory of winter in Northern painting. Michael Sweerts produced a similar version with a child blowing on his hands, though the old man is more comically represented than the dignified character in the present work (see R. Kultzen, Michael Sweerts, cat. 20). Sweerts' palette of shades of brown emphasizes the dirtiness and poverty of the setting rather than the cold of the winter. A work of similar subject was painted by Hendrick Bloemaert, with the young boy replaced by an old woman, and the interior setting rather more comfortably appointed than in the present composition (see M. Roethlisberger, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons, cat. H27).
An alternate attribution to an artist working in the circle of Joachim von Sandrart has been suggested.