Jacob Duck was probably born and trained in Utrecht, where he was listed as an apprentice portrait painter in the Utrecht Guild of Saint Luke in 1621. About ten years later, he was a master in the guild. Between 1631 and 1649, Duck's presence is documented in Utrecht, Haarlem, and Wijk bij Duurstede. By 1656, he was living in The Hague.
While not many Dutch soldiers actually fought in the Thirty Years' War---they hired mercenaries for that--paintings of soldiers became popular. Duck specialized in guardroom pictures, though like most genre pictures they did not command high prices, and he made etchings depicting gentlemen in contemporary dress. His painted subjects ranged from domestic activities to tavern scenes of boorish soldiers drinking, smoking, and flirting with pretty, young women of dubious virtue. They were often meant to convey moral messages, though much of the symbolism familiar to seventeenth-century audiences is unclear today. Duck often painted large crowds gathered in spacious halls, using every device then known to create the illusion of space: curtains or large objects in the foreground to establish the front plane, orthogonal lines made by the tiles or boards on the floor, vistas into rooms beyond, and aerial perspective.