The artist was the eldest son of Quinten Metsys, in whose workshop he first learned to paint. In 1531, the year after Quinten's death, Jan and his brother, Cornelis, were enrolled as members of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. On 10 November 1544, both brothers were, with fourteen others, accused of heresy and exiled from Brabant. Jan fled to Italy, probably to Genoa, where he was influenced by the artistic community. More importantly, however, he appears subsequently to have travelled to France, given the apparent influence of the school of Fontainebleau on his later work. Towards the end of 1555, Massys returned to Antwerp, where he reestablished himself as one of the city's leading artists, being engaged, for example, in the construction of the new Town Hall and receiving from the city council an order for a courtroom painting of The Judgement of Solomon.
Dr. Leontine Buijnsters-Smets, having inspected this picture in the original, considers it to be a largely autograph work by Jan Massys, thus revising her previously published judgement on the basis of the poor photograph in the 1949 auction catalogue (letter). Doctor Edwin Buijsen of the RKD, after inspection in the original considered the work to be fully autograph because of its high quality and stylistic similarity to the work of Massys (letter). Furthermore, he points out that the date on the picture is reinforced and that the restorer misintrepreted the date, which originally read 1556. Therefore the picture dates from four years after the signed and dated (1552) Nativity (Buijnsters-Smets, op. cit., 1995, no. 25), just after Massys returned to Antwerp from his eleven year exile. Certainly the picture show the development towards a more monumental type of composition, both in architecture and in the large figures that fill the picture plane, a characteristic typical of Massys' second Antwerp period. Buijsen notices the close similarity with the 1552 Nativity and of another picture of the same subject (ibid., no. 23); he compares the Saint Joseph, on the other hand, with that in The Holy Family dated 1563, which shows Joseph as a fragile old man as opposed to the vivacious figure in the 1562 Nativity. Buijnsters-Smets also remarks on the high quality of the Madonna and Child and its similarity to the pictures mentioned by Buijsen. However, she ascribes the slightly unusual physiognomy of the Saint Joseph to a workshop assistant.