Working mainly in Utrecht, the city of his birth, Haarlem and The Hague, Duck was reputed for his guardroom and merry company scenes, such as here. These subjects were popular in Holland in the seventeenth century. The influence of the Utrecht Caravaggisti, Terbrugghen, Honthorst and Baburen for instance, is evident in this scene, not only in its playful subject matter, but in its theatricality – the highly illuminated central scene set against a dark background, the suggestive gesture of the cavalier and his eye contact with the viewer, and the exaggerated sleeping pose of the woman.
Like many genre scenes, there are perhaps moral undertones to this painting. The costume of the sleeping woman is intended to be seductive, and the cavalier’s gesture, a common motif, may be a rude manner of alerting the viewer to his sexual intentions. The woman is perhaps the personification of sloth, and the cavalier a reference to lust. In the shadows on the right side of the painting, Duck has reversed the roles, depicting a man who has fallen asleep and a woman whose pointing hand motion suggests her less-than-virtuous objectives. As demonstrations of his virtuosity, Duck has included a very fine rendering of the still-life elements on the table, the drapery of the woman’s dress and the table covering that stands out against the dark brown shadows of the background.