Considered by Freund to be Bolognese, Weber (loc. cit.) was the first to give this picture to Liberi, connecting it with the originally oval version of the composition in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. In the latter the old man's head leans to the right and the boy has a slightly severer expression. In his monograph on Pietro and Marco Liberi, Ruggeri, on the basis of a poor photograph hesitated over whether the picture is by Marco or Pietro, but tended towards Marco as the probable author, a view he confirmed in 2003 (private communication) after examining good photographs.
Freund identified the subject as an adaptation of Consiglio in Cesare Ripa's 'Della più che novissima iconologia di Cesare Ripa Perugino, Parte Prima...ampliata dal Sig. Cav. Gio. Zaratino Castellini Romano...', Padua, MDCXXX. In that the old man holds a book in his right hand and an owl in his left: attributes of wisdom and nocturnal study. He wears around his neck a medal in the form of a heart, to signify that Good Counsel is inspired by that organ. In his left hand he also carries the signum triceps, a symbol shaped as the heads of a lion, a dog and a wolf, and signifying the past, future and present, or Time.
In this interpretation, Liberi has omitted the owl and effectively replaced the medal with a young boy resting his head on the old man's chest, and thus listening to the advice of the old mans' heart.