Michael Jaffé (1982) observed that this painting -- which is executed on canvas that was cut into a triangular form at the top, laid down on panel and made up into a rectangle -- seems to have originally formed the lower half of another oil sketch depicting The Three Heliades and the River Po that is in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. If the identification of the subject of the Frankfurt sketch is correct, it would suggest that the present lot represents the brother of the Heliades, Phaeton, tumbled from the sky, lying beside a sleeping River God. Jaffé regarded both fragments to be the work of Rubens himself; Julius Held (The Oil Sketches of Rubens, Princeton, 1980, no. 241, fig. 449) discussed only the Frankfurt fragment, but considered it to be an anonymous copy of a lost oil sketch by Rubens.
As Jaffé later noted (1988), the outstretched youth in the present lot is closely related to the figure of the dead Adonis in Rubens' large-scale Death of Adonis of circa 1614, formerly in the collection of Saul Steinberg, New York (Tel-Aviv Art Museum). This figure reveals Rubens' close study of the ignudi and the Titius of Michelangelo, while the other nude is based on Leon Davent's engraving after Primaticcio's Jupiter.