The composition of this picture derives from a lost drawing by Hans Bol. In 1570, a year after the death of Peter Bruegel I, Hieronymus Cock published a series of four engravings depicting The Four Seasons. These had been commissioned by Bruegel, and were to be after compositions that he was working on. The drawing for Spring, in the Albertina, is dated 1565, that for Summer 1568. However, Brueghel was unable to complete all four drawings before his death, and Cock turned to Hans Bol to supply Autumn and Winter in time to publish his engravings in 1570. Neither of Bol's drawings survives.
The majority of paintings known that follow the composition are by the hands, or from the workshops, of either Pieter Brueghel II or Abel Grimmer. The present work, which is considerably larger in scale than those types, would appear to be by a third hand, who has only loosely followed the original composition. The basic theme is the same: the larger figures in the left foreground, the ice-bound castle in the centre background, the figures skating on the ice, the inn in the right background. However the details are markedly different - of the figures, only the man kneeling in the foreground, the one gesturing towards him and the woman seated behind retain their original poses; their dress, however, has been altered. More markedly, the rest of the cluster of foreground figures are depicted in masque costumes.
This adapted composition must presumably be one of a set of four Seasons, a fact strongly implied by the inclusion of the zodiacal signs for Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces (mid-December to mid-March), representing Winter (the Hyemnal or Brumal quarter to Renaissance astrologers). The Winter months were closely connected with Carnival themes, and the Italianate costumes worn here by the spectators must presumably be intended to reflect that additional aspect of the season.