Like his fellow Antwerp artist Marten de Vos, Paolo Fiammingo travelled to Venice where he became an assistant in Tintoretto's workshop, specialising in landscape backgrounds. However, unlike de Vos, Paolo remained in Venice, opening a successful studio of his own there. From 1580 he produced several series of paintings for Hans Fugger (1531-1598), the heir of the German banking dynasty, to decorate Schloss Kirchheim near Augsburg, which became the family's summer residence. Amongst Paolo's commissions from Fugger was a series depicting The Four Ages of Man.
The iconography derives from The Four Ages of Man, as described in Ovid's Metamorphoses (I:89-150), in which the earthly paradise of the Golden Age descends through the Silver Age and Bronze Age ('when cruel people inclined to arms but not to impious crimes') into the strife and greed of the war-like Iron Age, placed by Ovid before the Flood.
As noted by Stefania Mason Rinaldi ('Paolo Fiammingo', in Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell'Arte, xi, 1978, p. 77), documents show the first two canvases from that series (The Age of Gold and The Age of Silver) to have been completed by 1582, whilst by 1615, all four paintings were recorded in the hall before the Zedernsaal at Kirchheim. The series is listed by Mason Rinaldi under 'opere perdute', however a close workshop variation of The Age of Bronze is published by her in the Fugger Collection, Kircheim, as representing 'il commercio' (in addition to a copy in the Mauren-Brecher Collection, Cologne; ibid. pp. 61 and 174, fig. 35), suggesting that that may instead be one of the lost series, by extrapolation of workshop quality, of two of which the present works represent the prime, autograph compositions.
Professor Ugo Ruggeri has confirmed the attribution, having examined the pictures in the original.