Jacob Hoefnagel was born in Antwerp in 1575, son of Joris Hoefnagel, the famous draughtsman and painter who worked for the elector of Bavaria in Munich for eight years, before entering in the service of Emperor Rudolf II at the imperial court in Prague. Like his father, he specialized in small-scale studies of natural history subjects, such as insects, birds and plants, although several paintings by his hand are also known.
Hoefnagel studied with the Antwerp painter Abraham Liesaert, before going to Frankfurt in 1592, where he met up with his father. Afterwards he settled at the courts of Rudolf II in Prague and Vienna, working not only as an artist, but also as an art dealer and a diplomat. He undertook several journeys to Rome, but also went to Stockholm and Göteborg, where he stayed for four years.
While at the court of Rudolf II, Hoefnagel met several other artists who worked there, such as Johann and Aegidius Saedeler, draughtsman and engravers who came from his native city of Antwerp. In the Albertina in Vienna a drawing is kept, signed by Johann Saedeler (Brussels 1550 – 1600 Venice), depicting the same group of Thetis and Peleus as can be seen in the foreground of the present painting. At one point, the present painting was therefore attributed to Saedeler. However, not a single painting from his hand is known, making him an unlikely author for the present work. The discovery of the monogram and date on the back on the painting pointed to Jacob Hoefnagel, an attribution which since has been confirmed by several experts.
In this picture, the nereid Thetis and the mortal king Peleus (Achilles’ parents) are tenderly sitting together in the foreground, a pair of young lovers that only have eyes for each other. In the background their wedding guests are seated at the banqueting table. Zeus can be clearly made out – the eagle is sitting at his side – surrounded by the other Olympic gods. Four muses, playing instruments that the artist undoubtedly would have known from the court of Rudolf II, provide the necessary musical entertainment. The whole scene is set in nature: since Peleus, a mortal, cannot access the heavens, the gods must come down to earth to attend the wedding.