This hitherto unrecorded work is an addition to a group of around forty versions of the subject which are accepted as autograph by Klaus Ertz (Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen, 2000, pp. 605-21, nos. E682-E725). The composition is one of the most enduringly popular of the Brueghel family. The prototype is often thought to be the painting in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; however, as Klaus Ertz points out in his recent monograph on Pieter Brueghel II (op. cit., p. 576), the attribution of that work to Pieter Bruegel I, whose signature and date it bears, is not beyond dispute. He believes, instead, that the prototype may be a lost work by Jan Brueghel I, inspired by his father's famous Hunters in the Snow of 1565 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum).
The distinctive beauty of the composition derives from the introduction of the unusual bird trap theme above the view of villagers at play on the ice - a scene inspired by that in the middle ground of the Hunters in the Snow. Ertz describes it as a simple, genre-like landscape; however, this to a degree underestimates the inventiveness and originality displayed in the as-yet-unidentified protoype. It has been suggested that the underlying subject of the picture is the precariousness of life, with the obliviousness of the birds towards the threat of the trap mirrored by the carefree play of the skaters upon the fragile ice. In the catalogue of the exhibition Le Siècle de Brueghel (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, 27 September-24 November 1963, p. 69) Georges Marlier identified the village depicted as Pede-Ste-Anne in Brabant.