The composition of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's splendid winter landscape is closely based upon a lost drawing by Hans Bol (1534-1593). Bol was both a draftsman and painter, and an accomplished watercolorist (waterschilderen). Many of his drawings were made into prints by engravers such as Hieronymous Cock and Phillip Galle, and in 1570, a year after the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hieronymus Cock published a series of four engravings depicting The Four Seasons. These had been commissioned by the elder Bruegel, and were to be after compositions that he was working on. The drawing for Spring, in the Albertina, is dated 1565, that for Summer 1568. However, Brueghel the Younger was unable to complete all four drawings before his death, and Cock turned to Hans Bol to supply Autumn and Winter in time to publish his engravings in 1570. Neither of Bol's drawings survives. Ertz (op. cit.) notes that the present painting is the earliest dated version of this composition.
Both Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Abel Grimmer used the series as the basis for paintings, Grimmer generally remaining more rigorously faithful to the original drawing/engraving. The present picture shows some of the younger Brueghel's adaptations. For example, Cock and Grimmer depict a circular island with a tall conifer to the right of the castle. Brueghel introduces the footprints in the snow in the left foreground, whereas Grimmer shows the snow apparently untrod. Brueghel retains Cock's fallen branch in the foreground, adding some twigs: these are present in this picture, slightly altered in number and position. Also, the composition and appearance of the buildings in the right background are Brueghel's adaptations, as are the large windows in the castle, and the absence of men working in the fields in the left background.
The famous Brueghel dynasty of painters begins with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who is recognized as one of the greatest artists in 16th-century northern Europe. His son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger is known primarily as a copyist of his father, his work often providing the only evidence of lost compositions by the elder Bruegel. His brother, Jan Breughel the Elder or 'Velvet Breughel' became one of the most important Flemish artist's of the first half of the 17th-century, and his work was collected in many of the Royal European courts. The sons of both Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder were successful artists in their own right.