III. The identification of the painting

Practically unknown until now, the present canvas has only been mentioned and reproduced in an article by Matías Díaz Padrón, former curator at the Prado, that was published in Archivo Español de Arte in 19804. The author, who had not seen the painting at first hand, attributed it to Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

The composition was known from an engraving in reverse, commissioned by Abraham Brueghel (1630/31-1690) in 1670 at the latest. Abraham, the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, settled in Italy and probably died in Naples. He was unaware that the creator of the painting was in fact his great-grandfather and considered it to be a work by his grandfather, Jan “Velvet” Brueghel, younger son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This is indicated in the inscription on the print at the lower left: “I. Bruegel in[venit] et pinx[it]”, while the name of the printmaker appears at the lower right: “N. Guerard sculp[sit] Roma5”. The existence of the print suggests that there must have been a painted version (either the present work or a copy of it) or a drawing in Rome (either owned by Abraham Brueghel or available to him) at the time when he had the print executed6.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has a fragment that reproduces the right side of the composition, including the scene of Saint Martin dividing his cloak (canvas, 90 x 72cm). It was published by Gustav Glück who considered it to be an original by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, as did Hulin de Loo7 and other subsequent experts including Friedländer8. When still complete the Vienna canvas belonged to the collection of the Archduke Leopold William. Surprisingly, it is described as a work by an unknown hand in the 1659 inventory of his collection, which was drawn up by David Teniers II, who was in fact notably familiar with the work of the various members of the Bruegel family9. In the present day a minority of experts have catalogued it as among questionable attributions (including Seipel and Wied in their study of the Vienna Bruegels10), but most have rejected the attribution (including Sellink, who does not even list it among questionable attributions), proposing either Pieter Brueghel the Younger or Jan Brueghel.

A complete copy of the painting dating from the 17th century is to be found in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (oil on canvas, 147 x 269.5cm, inv. 1081811). This work has the letters “A B [?]”, which can be associated with Abraham Brueghel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s great-grandson who, as noted above, had the engraving after the print executed in Italy. The Brussels copy reveals slight differences in relation to the present painting but it can be assumed that it is based on it.

A comparison of the present canvas with the two other canvases – the Vienna fragment and the complete painting in Brussels – confirms the extremely high aesthetic merit of the present painting, which is an original work by this great artist. The application of the brushstroke with its deft, confident strokes, the manner of creating the folds of the drapery, the touches of light on the faces and on some of the drinking vessels, some of the shadows and the choice of colours are all characteristic of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. All these features have been taken into account by the various experts consulted by the Museo del Prado, including specialists from other international museums, who have supported the attribution of the work as an autograph painting by the master.

4 M. Díaz Padrón, "La obra de Pedro Brueghel el Joven en España", Archivo Español de Arte, LIII (1980), pp. 289-318, reprod. fig. 13, en la p. 306. Back

5 The engraving has the following dedication in the lower margin: "All Mmº et Eccellmº Sig[no]re, il Sign[o]re D. Gaspard Altieri Generale di Santa Chiesa.- La resoluzione ch’io prendo, Eccellentissime Principe, di dare all’ Inmortalità l’Opera di S. Martino di Brugolo mio Nonno ha por oggeto la sodisfazzione di alcuni virtuosi ….". Below it appears the name of Abraham Brueghel. Back

6 The Musée Atger in the Faculty of Medicine at Montpellier has a drawing of mediocre quality from the second half of the 17th century that reproduces the entire composition in the same direction as the painting. It may be in some way related to the execution of the print, either as a preparatory study or executed "a posteriori", see G. Marlier, Pieter Brueghel le Jeune, 1969, p. 327. Back

7 R. van Bastelaer and G. Hulin de Loo, Pieter Bruegel l’ancien. Son oeuvre et son temps, Brussels, 1907, pp. 312-314, cat. A 32. Back

8 M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Leyden-Brussels, XIV, 1976, no. 8, pl. 7, p. 20, dated to around 1558. Back

9 "568. Ein grosses stuckh von ohlfarb auf leinwaeth, warin das Fosst desz heyl Martins under den armen Leuthen ein Fasz Wein sur Almuessen gibt. Auf einer schwarzen Ramen, hoch 8 Spann, 1 Finger, undt 14 Spann braith". Quoted in Bastelaer and Hulin de Loo, 1907, p. 312. Back

10 Pieter Bruegel the Elder at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, (W. Seipel ed.), 1997, p. 150, no. 51. Back

11 Sold in Paris at the Galerie Petit on 10 June 1904 (Fontaine-Flament sale, lot 12, reprod. in Bastelaer and Hulin de Loo, 1907, cat. A-32). In 1905 the painting belonged to Marie Croquison de Courtrai, who gave it to her nephew Dr Frans Heulens in 1933. He in turn gave it to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1988. Back

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