There are few concrete facts around which to soundly construct the life and influences of the Dutch artist, Jan Swart van Groningen. He first emerges as a tangible figure in the art of the woodcut and it was in this context that he was referred to as 'one of the glories of our school' by Karel van Mander, who equally admitted to never having seen a single painting by Swart's hand. He seems to have come to Antwerp from the Northeast as a young man, probably around 1520, at the same time that Dürer is known to have been in the Netherlands. In his woodcuts and drawings, which were often designs for stained glass and tapestries, Swart reveals his debt to the South German printmakers and to Dürer in particular, whose work was frequently the inspiration or model for his meticulously rendered landscapes which are packed with naturalistic detail.
Van Mander records that Jan Swart visited Venice, and certainly his sojourn in Italy seems to have been highly influential on his overall compositional style. Of importance to the development of Swart's figurative style was his encounter with Jan van Scorel, who returned from Italy to Antwerp around 1525.
In determining a plausible date of execution for the present work the influence of the Antwerp Mannerists must also be seen as playing an integral part in Swart's development. If it was predominantly Dürer who influenced the intense detail of Swart's foregrounds, it was the Antwerp artists, Dirk Vellert and Jan van Scorel, whose billowing styles helped form the looser handling of his middle and backgrounds (see for example, Van Scorel's Baptism of Christ, 1528, in the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem). There are few paintings by Jan Swart which have been convincingly dated, but Friedländer (Early Netherlandish Painting), New York and Washington, 1975, p. 15) postulates a date of around 1528 for his St John the Baptist Preaching (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). The present work is closer in style to The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes in the Groningen Museum voor Stad en Land, Groningen, which Friedländer suggests may have been painted just prior to 1528. It seems likely, therefore, that the present painting was executed in the latter part of the 1520s.