V. Restoration

In the light of its possible acquisition and in order obtain an accurate assessment of the painting’s condition as well as to form an opinion on its aesthetic quality and attribution, it is being restored by Elisa Mora at the Museo del Prado. Work began in February with a cleaning of the surface, followed by the removal of the polyester varnish. As this thick layer of varnish was removed the clarity of the image once again became evident, both as a whole and in respect to the groups of figures, in addition to the sense of depth in the landscape and the quality of execution. Despite the overall wear it was possible to appreciate brushstrokes characteristic of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in particular the way that the artist used light, parallel strokes and parallel, cross-hatched ones to create the shadows of figures such as the mother and child on the far left, which are similar to the shadows in the two Capodimonte tuchleins. The process of restoration also recovered the colours, particularly the reds, which are extremely important compositional elements in the work, as well as the yellows and greens that are characteristic of paintings by this artist.

Any remaining doubts regarding the attribution of the work were dispelled in early September with the discovery of the painter’s signature, albeit incomplete and worn, and the remains of the date in Roman numerals: “MDL [...]”. Both the characteristics of the signature and its location at the lower left, the location generally preferred by the artist, are comparable to the Two Monkeys in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie (1562), Christ and the Adulteress in the Courtauld Institute Galleries (1565), and The Conversion of Saint Paul in Vienna (1567).

Detail of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (work in process of restoration). Visible in the lower left corner, below the inventory number 31, is part of the signature and date: [BRVEGEL/M. D.L[...].

The current restoration process will continue for some months. It remains to be decided whether the relining will be removed in order to eliminate the resulting distortions, as well as what type of finish will be applied to the surface (possibly a light, matte varnish), once areas of loss on the paint surface have been filled in.

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