Abraham van Diepenbeeck was born in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1596. He was first taught by his father, Jan Roelofsz. van Diepenbeeck, who was a glass painter. Abraham was first recorded in 1622 as a glass painter in the Antwerp guild. He was further trained by a certain Abraham van Lamoen (a still life painter about whom we otherwise known little to nothing). It has been hotly debated whether or not he was also trained by Rubens; it is however certain that they collaborated on several projects. (For instance, the print for the title page of Torniello’s Annales Sacri was signed by Rubens as well as by van Diepenbeeck.) It would not be inaccurate to state that van Diepenbeeck was an assistant to Rubens of sorts. In 1636 he was registered as a poorter – citizen – of Antwerp; in 1638 he became a member of the local Guild of St Luke.
In the 1620’s he was mainly active as a designer of prints for books, stained-glass windows and tapestries; it was only later on that he would focus on painting. Van Diepenbeeck travelled to Great Britain in 1629; in 1632 he went to Paris and Fontainebleau, on assignment for Rubens. His collaboration with Rubens however did not prevent him from undertaking independent projects as a painter and engraver as well. While in England during the reign of Charles I, for instance, he painted several portraits, including that of the 1st Duke of Newcastle; he also illustrated the latter’s book on horsemanship.
The present lively and animated work is a beautiful example of van Diepenbeeck’s draughtsmanship; quickly and effortlessly executed in flowing lines in pen and ink and then worked over with brush and wash, it clearly shows the influence of Rubens’ elegant baroque style. The drawing belonged to one of history's finest and most renowned collectors, Pierre Jean Mariette, who also owned a remarkable early wash drawing - a design for a print - by the artist, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Although apparently not indented for transfer to the engraver's plate, the subject, format and scale of the present work all indicate that it was made as a design for a print. In the foreground it shows Hermes holding up a sheet, presumably for one of the muses, in the presence of an assembly of Olympic gods. While the inscription on the sheet is illisible, it used to be interpreted as sheet music, the scene thus depicting an allegory of music; however, the drawing can be connected to an engraving made as an illustration for Joos Lambrecht's Vlaemsche vrede-vreucht naer een pijnelijcke droefheyt door den grouwelijcken oorlogh, nu verandert in een aengenaeme peys (1659) (see illustration), which allowed for the iconography to be definitively deciphered. The inscription on the print reads "PAX OPTIMA RERUM", as it refers to the peace declaration between the kings of Spain and France (made before all the gods in heaven), which was signed in 1659, ending the Franco-Spanish war (1635 - 1659).