David Teniers created these two jewel-like copies of works by Francesco Bassano. In these scenes, figures are engaged in activities associated with the particular season, such as the sheering of sheep in Spring and the splitting of wood in Winter. Teniers made these works in preparation for his groundbreaking publication Theatrum Pictorum, or Theater of Painting (Antwerp, 1658). This illustrated catalogue of paintings, the first of its kind, documented 243 major Italian pictures from the collection of Teniers' patron, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1646-1656. In 1651, already an established and successful artist, Teniers had begun working for Leopold Wilhelm as both painter and overseer of his art collection, composed of around 1,300 items that included works by Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, and Bassano, among many others; it later became the basis of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Teniers made multiple paintings of Leopold Wilhelm's gallery: in a work now in the Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Neue Schloss Schleissheim, Oberschleissheim, the present work Spring is visible (fig. 1). In compiling the works for the Theater of Painting, Teniers painted copies of the selected pictures, including the present works, in 1656. These copies served as models for the group of twelve engravers who assisted him on the project. Theater of Painting was highly popular, prompting the publication of four later editions. Among its owners were prominent artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose copy is now in the British Library. In the nineteenth century, these panels belonged to James Christie, who in 1820 sold them with two additional panels making up the four seasons.