Born into a family of painters, Gillis van Coninxloo first apprenticed in Antwerp with Pieter Coecke van Aelst. After a sojourn in France, he joined Antwerp's Guild of Saint Luke by 1570. With religious strife in the Spanish-occupied Netherlands, the Calvinist Coninxloo fled north to escape persecution in 1585 and moved to Germany in 1587. His experience drawing tapestry cartoons there may have influenced his departure from the tradition of panoramic landscape. He began introducing groups of foreground trees that obstructed vistas, sharp contrasts of light and dark, and stylized foliage.
In 1595 Coninxloo moved to Amsterdam, where his landscape style coalesced into seemingly direct glimpses of nature. His up-close, heroic landscapes were based on reality but also incorporated idealization and decorative aspects, creating a feeling of unity between humans and nature and between landscape and viewer. Coninxloo may have known of similar artistic explorations in Italy through prints. His dense, airless forest scenes influenced Jan Brueghel the Elder and inspired the Dutch realist painters of the 1600s. "[Coninxloo] is, as far as I know, the best landscape painter of his time; his style is now frequently imitated in Holland," wrote artist Karel Van Mander in 1604.