This is a version of the composition of circa 1615 by Jan Brueghel I in the Prado, Madrid, although the right hand edge has been omitted, placing the figures more centrally in the composition. The Madrid picture is, in turn, based on the earlier composition of 1604 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The figures in both of the above paintings are by Hendrik van Balen. Another version of the Prado composition was sold, Sotheby's, London, 6 July 2000, lot 49 (£531,500), while a fourth, which Ertz accepts as possibly autograph and dates also to circa 1615 (op. cit., no. 301, pp. 365 and 607), was with Leonard Koetser, London, 1958.
Jan II returned to Antwerp from Italy in 1625, following the unexpected death of his father in a cholera epidemic. There, he took over the running of his father's studio, and completed several of his unfinished works. Van Balen died in 1632, giving a dating of the present work to 1625-32.
The elements have traditionally been understood to be represented by, in the centre, Ceres, with ears of corn in her hair and the cornucopia, as Earth; Amphitrite, as Water, beside her with a shell. The two flying figures have been understood as Flora and Zephyr, Zephyr representing Air. This begged the question of who represented Fire, as the figure kneeling before Ceres seems not to possess any attribute that could identify her as anyone emblematic of the element. Closer examination, however, shows the two figures in the sky both to be female; one, holding a peacock, should be identified as Juno, who was in the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries associated with Air, whilst the second is Vesta, representing Fire, holding the sacred flame that her Virgins were charged to keep perpetually alight. The seated figure proffering a pear to Ceres is Flora, representing Earth, which means that Ceres should be understood to represent the world's abundance, in effect a summary of all four Elements. In reference to this is the group of peasants preparing a picnic in the background, representing humanity accepting and making use of the gifts given to them by the deities in the foreground.
This picture was sold in 1979 with a certificate from W.R. Valentiner dated 15 February 1935 attributing the picture in full to Jan Brueghel I and Hendrik van Balen.