This is similar to the picture sold in these Rooms on 10 July 1998, lot 8 (£150,000), and throws interesting light on Antwerp studio practice in the 1620s. An entry for 1626 in Jan Brueghel II's daybook records the execution of a Venus in the Forge of Vulcan, featuring the coat of arms of the Duke of Savoy, in which the figures were by Hendrik van Balen. Lot 8 offered in July showed a forge, in which the coat of arms on the shield held by Vulcan were those of the House of Bourbon; in the present picture the shield is left blank and the garniture on the ground near Vulcan is also undecorated. In fact, there are other small variations both in the armour and more notably in the figures; for instance, in the present picture, Vulcan is younger and Venus wears a gown. The support is larger and it seems clear that the present panel was passed to van Balen for his contribution for the armour which is not as highly worked up as it might have been. This may have been due to pressure of work in the studio and/or an urgent demand for this composition, of which this is one of possibly only three complete versions extant.
The story of Venus' gift to her son, Aeneas, of armour made at her request by her husband Vulcan, is related by Virgil in the Aeneid, VIII, 370ff. Vulcan's forge is set in a vast, ruined, classical arcade, which connects with a drawing, described as of Roman ruins, attributed to Paul Bril, reproduced by Ertz, (op. cit., fig. 444). Mount Etna is in the distance -Virgil described the forge as being in the vaults of Etna.
The scene in the middle ground has been described as Mars (?) receiving armour, but it may rather depict Aeneas being equipped with the armour made by Vulcan, as Venus watches holding a helmet.
Ertz doubted that Jan Brueghel I executed the mise en scène of this picture and believed it was the work of a copyist, perhaps Jan Brueghel II. In view of Jan Brueghel II's day book entry, it seems clear that he continued to work in this vein, invented by his father, and to collaborate with Hendrik van Balen, whose authorship of the main figures on the right is probable.