I. Introduction: Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The appearance of this painting can be considered a major discovery of outstanding importance for the history of art. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the “new Bosch”, as he was considered in his own day, is the leading figure within 16th-century Flemish painting. Together with Quintin Massys and Joachim Patinir (both of whom he surpassed), he constituted the group of the three most important Flemish artists of the century.

Celebrated in his own lifetime, following his early death in 1569 Bruegel’s works were highly sought after, indeed pursued by collectors. In the present time only works from between 1557 and 1568 are known, constituting a brief period of activity of just over a decade. Such was the demand for his paintings that in March 1609 his younger son, Jan Brueghel, wrote to Federico Borromeo, Cardinal of Milan, to inform him that he had been unable to locate a single original work by the artist to send him as the Emperor (Rudolf II) had spent a great deal in order to acquire them all. Proof of this statement is the fact that the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which houses the former imperial collection, has twelve of the forty autograph paintings – most of them signed – that are accepted as such in the latest monograph on the painter (Manfred Sellink, 2007). That list now increases to forty-one with the discovery of this autograph work from a private Spanish collection, formerly in the Medinaceli collection.

Up until now only one autograph work by Bruegel was known in Spain: the panel of The Triumph of Death of around 1562, in the Museo del Prado (P-1393). It was formerly in the Spanish royal collection and is recorded in the inventory of La Granja of 1774. Recent research has shown that it had belonged to the Duke of Medina de las Torres (son-in-law of the Count-Duke of Olivares) in Italy, forming part of his Neapolitan guardaroba in 1641, and that the Duke had it sent to Spain in 16551. It is also known that there was a second work by the artist in Spain, The Tower of Babel, now in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, which belonged to Queen Isabella Farnese in the 18th century.

Of the forty works included in Sellink’s monograph only two are in private hands: Haymaking of 1565, in the Lobkowicz collection in Prague, and the small tondo of The Drunk pushed into a Pigsty (20cm diameter) of 1557, sold at Christie’s London in 2002 and now in a private New York collection. The list can now be expanded with the addition of this canvas from a private Spanish collection, whose subject is known as The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day. This large format work - the largest known by the artist - with its complex composition can be considered the most important discovery relating to a work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder to be made in many years.

1 F. Bouza, "De Rafael a Ribera y de Nápoles a Madrid. Nuevos inventarios de la colección Medina de las Torres-Stigliano (1641-1656)", Boletín del Museo del Prado, 45 (2009), pp. 44-71. Back

 
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