A Dutch artist who became a court painter for Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, Van Ravesteyn was most likely born around 1565-1570 in the Northern Netherlands to a family of artists that included his father Claes Quade van Ravesteyn. Dirck moved to Prague to work for the Emperor, at whose court he is first recorded in 1589. Rudolf attracted to Prague many of the most talented artists of his time, as well as scholars, scientists and philosophers, making his court one of the great intellectual and artistic centers of 16th-century Europe. Surviving documents show that Van Ravesteyn owned property in the Malá Strana in 1598 and lent large sums of money in 1598 and 1602, suggesting that he met significant professional success in Prague. He received court payments for the last time in 1608 and presumably returned to The Netherlands soon thereafter. He died sometime after 1619, when he is mentioned as creditor of the deceased emperors Rudolf and Matthias (see T. DaCosta Kaufmann, op. cit., p. 220).
We are grateful to Dr. Eliska Fucikov©a for confirming the attribution of the present work to Van Ravesteyn and dating the painting to the his late period at Rudolf's court (written communication, 9 March 2006). Fucikov©a notes the composition's resemblance to Van Ravesteyn's Instruments of the Passion and Allegory on the Reign of Rudolf II of 1603, both in the National Gallery, Prague (invs. DO-5351 and DO-7557). In the present work, the Virgin and child sit surrounded by angels. A religious subject, the scene also delightfully captures the boisterious exurberance of childhood. While the Virgin looks down to a book held in her delicate, elongated fingers, the animated angels around her engage in a range of activites: the pair at lower left play musical instruments, while those at lower right sing from a songbook and another gangly fellow floats above, his chubby legs dangling in the air. Meanwhile, the Christ child tries to capture the attention of the Virgin by raising a flower to her chin; an angel brings an elegant vase of flowers to her. Yet, despite their disparate activies, the figures bear a shared physiognomy, with facial types recalling Barocci and Jan Massys, whose paintings Van Ravesteyn would have known from Rudolf's collection.