Subject is from the Aeneid, vi.269-282
There are versions of this composition attributed to Jan the Younger in Brussels MBA (Ertz, Jan Brueghel the Younger, #130; Brussels inv. #6249); Ertz JBII #131 in Hardy Collection, Bendorf; and Ertz #132 in Antwerp, Kronacker collection. Ertz says that these were all produced by Jan Brueghel the Younger in the 1630s, but how would such replication 30+ years later be possible? How do we know they are that late? There is another copy in the Metropolitan Museum of Art which they too date to 1630-40 and attribute to Jan the Younger. It seems likely to me that these versions were produced at the same time as the original in Jan’s workshop. All are of the same size and on copper supports. Relatedly, the figure groupings in this work are taken from groupings that Rottenhammer had provided for Brueghel's Dresden Juno in the Underworld. However, the groups are placed now on opposite sides of the plate than they were in the Juno. Three of the men are in the lower right corner but the fourth man, who had not been tangled with the others, has been moved over to the left and lies next to the group of women. This is interesting in terms of how Jan used drawings in his studio practice. Comparing Brussels version to the present work, there are actually tons of little differences in the details. The basic larger figure groupings and the general disposition of the landscape are identical but many, many smaller figures, animals, demons, hellish machines etc. are different. It could easily be copied from a group of study drawings, for instance. In size, the Brussels painting (also on copper) is almost identical to this one; the other two versions are very close as well.I also note that the supposed Jan the Younger painting sold by Robert Fink in 1962 is a terrible picture but is actually closer in some details to the original, has things from this work that the (better) Brussels painting does not have. Yet there are also elements in the Fink painting that seem to be from the Brussels painting (or one like it) and not from the original. How is this possible? Possibly the Brussels painting is the key secondary version from which a work like the Fink painting derives.One of these copies was sold Christies, London, July 4 1997 #239; the plate it was on had a P. Staes stamp on the back, if that helps with dating. There is also a variant in Munich (copper, 27 x 41) that Harting attributed to Frans II Francken. Clearly indeed by another hand than the rest, very odd. Harting cat. #275A, illustrated on p.51.
Note on possible early provenance from Sotheby's: A painting described as "Enea condotto dalla Sibilla negli Elisei, di Brueghel d'Enfer" is listed in the 1848 inventory of Giovanni Andrea Colonna, Rome, no. 392. By this date Brueghel's three other versions of this subject (mentioned above) are known to be in their current locations, two in the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum, Budapest, and the other in the Kaiserhaus, Vienna (later entering the Kunsthistorisches Museum). It is thus possible that the present work is identifiable with the Colonna painting. The earlier Colonna inventory of 1783, made by Filippo III Colonna, lists only a pair of works described as: "Due Quadri di 1 1/2 per traverso, uno rappresentante Orfeo, ed Euridice all'Inferno, l'altro Enea agli Elisi = Bruguel Infernale". Again, the present work may be identifiable with the second of the pair, fitting both the description and the dimension (no painting identifiable with the former, depicting Orpheus and Euridice, is known today and is either lost or the subject was mis-identified by the inventory compiler). No painting specifically mentioning Aeneas appears in the 1714 Colonna inventory, but the descriptions here are, in general, extremely vague. Whether identifiable with the present work or not, the painting mentioned in the 1848 inventory may have entered the Colonna collection through marriage, which would explain its non-appearance in the 1714 inventory. On the other hand it is conceivable that Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, the artist's patron in Rome from 1592-94, commissioned it directly from Brueghel, who had returned to Antwerp two years before its execution, in 1596, and the subject is simply unidentified in subsequent inventories.