From the mid-eighteenth century, it was believed that this painting portrayed the poet Abraham Cowley (1618-67). Cowley was a prodigy whose poetry was first published when he was fifteen-years-old. Horace Walpole helped construct this identification while the painting was in his collection at Strawberry Hill, describing it as having an ‘impassioned glow of sentiment’ and ‘eyes swimming with youth and tenderness’. However, Cowley would have been around forty-years-old at the time this picture was painted, whereas the young shepherd cannot be much older than a teenager. Similarly, Mary Beale’s portrait of her son Bartholomew was also mistakenly thought to represent Cowley. Both misidentifications may have arisen because the poet had been a guest of the Beales in 1664.