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Technical investigation and restoration

The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day Bruegel el Viejo, Pieter 12 December 2011

The Prado is exhibiting for the first time The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day by Pieter Bruegel the Elder at the Museum following a lengthy and complex process of restoration.

The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day

The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day after restoration

Supported by:




Following the initial phases of restoration that led to the rediscovery of the artist’s signature, which was worn and incomplete, as well as the remains of the date in Roman letters, “MDL […]”, Elisa Mora, the restorer undertaking the project, proceeded to recover the original texture of the support and to remove the folds and bulges that were the result of earlier, inappropriate restorations. She removed additional strips that had been added around the edges of the linen support and removed old gesso infilling, areas of repainting and inserts that had been used to fill in splits and holes. She then removed the relining and the thick glue with which it was attached to the original linen support using a controlled humidification system. While this slow and delicate procedure was taking place the old inserts were replaced with small pieces of cloth of a type very similar to the original and all the weak zones on the back were reinforced. To complete the treatment of the support strips were added all round the edge and the painting was placed in a metal frame to correct distortions. A “floating re-lining” was mounted on the stretcher before the painting was attached to it in order to act as a supporting and protecting structure without actually attaching the original linen support to it.

Paint layer

The first step in the restoration of the paint layer consisted in covering over the largest areas of paint loss in order to recover the composition visually, progressively adjusting their tonality using pigments with a resin binding. These pigments were applied with a texture similar to the original one in order to recover the painting’s distinctive tone and luminosity.

As the process of cleaning advanced the composition gradually became clearer to the naked eye, despite its complexity. New details came to light and both the overall composition and the groups of figures became much easier to read, while the landscape gained in depth and its quality of execution was once again evident. It became increasingly possible to appreciate Bruegel’s method of painting black outlines, as well as his characteristic brushstrokes. In addition, it was now possible to discern pictorial devices such as the manner of creating shadows through hatched, parallel brushstrokes that in turn create a sense of volume, as in the group of the mother and child on the far left. The colour also returned to life, particularly the red tones that are of such compositional significance in this work, together with the yellows and blues that are always important in Bruegel’s paintings.

Although Bruegel might have made a preparatory drawing before executing this work alla prima in order to proceed to its execution with greater security, he nonetheless introduced a few changes that became visible once the dirt and layers of varnish had been removed from the surface. The most important pentimento is undoubtedly the one relating to the figure drinking on the upper part of the barrel. When Bruegel decided to make the barrel recede further into the pictorial space he covered over the original white of the figure’s shirt with the red colour of the barrel. The white, however, now shows through from underneath. Other less significant pentimenti include the change in the position of the horse’s muzzle and its left hoof, which Bruegel moved slightly further back into the pictorial space.

The outcome of this complex and extremely difficult process of restoration has exceeded all prior expectations given that the work’s original texture and colours are once again evident. The result is the recuperation of a masterpiece in which Pieter Bruegel the Elder reveals his artistic genius in the conception and realisation of the composition.

<p><strong>Left:</strong> Detail of the upper right corner prior to restoration.</p><p><strong>Right: </strong>The same scene. After cleaning it has recovered a sense of light and depth.</p>

Left: Detail of the upper right corner prior to restoration.

Right: The same scene. After cleaning it has recovered a sense of light and depth.

<p><strong>Left:</strong> The figure of Saint Martin, covered in dirt and areas of repainting, prior to restoration.</p><p><strong>Right:</strong> Restoration has recovered the original colour and volumes.</p>

Left: The figure of Saint Martin, covered in dirt and areas of repainting, prior to restoration.

Right: Restoration has recovered the original colour and volumes.

<p><strong>Left:</strong> Figure of a woman giving her baby wine from a bowl, prior to restoration.</p><p><strong>Right: </strong>The restoration has recovered the feeling of space and of the figures being located in an environment.</p>

Left: Figure of a woman giving her baby wine from a bowl, prior to restoration.

Right: The restoration has recovered the feeling of space and of the figures being located in an environment.

<p>X-ray of <em>The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day</em> showing Bruegel’s particular style and brushwork</p>

X-ray of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day showing Bruegel’s particular style and brushwork

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.

The subject of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day

The canvas depicts the Saint Martin’s Day wine festival. The 11th of November, the saint’s feast day, was celebrated by eating “Saint Martin’s Goose”, coinciding with the autumn pig-killing, while the new wine made from the recently picked grape harvest, known as Saint Martín’s wine, was sampled. The coincidence of the saint’s feast day with the end of the grape picking meant that Saint Martin’s Day became associated with a free distribution of wine to country people outside city gates. As a result, and despite the presence of Saint Martin in the painting, dividing his cloak on the right, this is not a religious composition or a devotional work, nor, however, is it a genre scene. The focus of the composition is the celebration of Saint Martin’s Day as it took place in Flanders and in the Germanic world at this period, where it had something of the character of a bacchanal and was the prelude to the winter carnival. Its iconographic precedent is to be found in a painting by Bosch known from a tapestry in the collection of Patrimonio Nacional2. Bruegel’s painting clearly expresses an ironic tension between the charity of Saint Martin (often depicted from the 15th century onwards as a fashionably dressed aristocrat) and the excesses of the feast that bears his name.

The composition is set in late autumn with numerous bare trees and is located outside a city gate, the architectural style of which suggests the Porte de Hal in Brussels, and near to some country dwellings. In the centre the artist has located an extremely large barrel of wine painted in a red tone and standing on a wooden scaffolding structure. Around it are a crowd of varied figures: young and old men, women, some with children, peasants, beggars and thieves, all attempting to obtain the largest possible quantity of wine.

While some of the figures who have succeeded in filling their various containers are now back on the ground, others, in their attempt to reach the wine, are clinging to the supports of the scaffolding or have cast themselves onto the barrel or are leaning forward at considerable risk to themselves in order to collect the wine as it emerges from the barrel, using the widest range of receptacles, including hats and shoes. Bruegel reveals his dazzling mastery in arranging and fitting together the group of around one hundred figures, creating the effect of a mountain of humanity driven by gluttony: a sort of Tower of Babel of drinkers. The artist creates a deliberate contrast between the central group around the barrel and the much more stable, pyramidal group that depicts the charity of Saint Martin on the right. The composition is completed on the opposite side on the left by the figures who are clearly suffering from the effects of the wine, and here Bruegel depicts those who have been carried away by the sin of gluttony rather than following the path of virtue, in contrast to Saint Martin. Examples of such figures include one vomiting, another lying unconscious in his own vomit on the ground, two men fighting and the woman offering her baby wine.

As with Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s compositions reveal a critical attitude typical of the day towards peasants, drinkers and drunkards, as well as towards beggars, who also appear in the painting3. Painted at a key moment of the Reformation, whose ideas Bruegel shared, the present painting reflects to some extent the issue of the cult of saints and the efficacy of good works, of which Saint Martin’s charity was among the finest examples. In addition, we should probably take account of Erasmus’ satires on saints’ feast days, in which gluttony becomes the first of the Capital Sins.

In this sense there is a clear iconographic parallel between the present painting by Bruegel and the central panel of The Haywain by Bosch of around 1516 (Museo del Prado), although the depiction in that work is of a symbolic and allegorical nature. Bruegel’s composition remains firmly rooted in the reality of his own time.

2 See Martin W. Walsh, “Martín y muchos pobres: Grotesque Versions of the Charity of St Martin in the Bosch and Bruegel Schools”, Essays in Medieval Studies (Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association), 14.
3 See M.A. Sullivan, Bruegel’s Peasants. Art and Audience in the Northern Renaissance, Cambridge, 1994.

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] Roma.5

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


"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.


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


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.

Technique and state of conservation

The painting is a work on linen of the tuchlein type, painted in glue-size tempera on an unprepared ground, which was a common technique used in Flanders in the 15th and 16th centuries despite the fact that relatively few examples have survived. The original support is of a type commonly used at this period, made from a fine, regularly woven linen of a pale tone and with a taffeta weave. The support has been treated with nothing more than a coat of animal size. This was the normal method of preparation for paintings with this type of support, which were generally hung on the wall without a stretcher. The paint is applied in a simple manner in one or two layers, given that tempera did not allow for the use of impasto or glazes. The pigments used are similar to those found in the tuchlein of The Adoration of the Magi in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, attributed with some doubts to Pieter Bruegel the Elder12, and also to those found in a work of mediocre aesthetic quality in the Museo del Prado (P-2470), attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger. A visual comparison of the two tuchleins in the Museo di Capodimonte, The Parable of the Blind Men, signed and dated 1568, and The Misanthrope, which are the only two works in this technique universally accepted as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, reveals a notably similar technique and manner of painting13.

The tuchlein of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day has almost no under-drawing due to the manner in which works on this support were executed, i.e. directly or “alla prima”. Among the few corrections are some minor ones to the wooden support of the scaffolding that some of the figures are attempting to climb in order to get closer to the right side of the barrel, and to one of the rear hooves of Saint Martin’s horse. The back of the barrel has an interesting pentimento: before painting the barrel’s outline, Bruegel completed the lower part of the figure in the white shirt and waistcoat who raises a beer jug in order to drink from it. This part of the figure was concealed by the red pigment used to define the form of the barrel and has only now become visible due to the paint becoming transparent as a result of wear to the picture surface.

It is not surprising that the painting is not in perfect condition, precisely because it was painted using this very fragile, delicate technique, and its physical state is in fact similar to other 16th-century tuchleins that have survived to the present day. The fact that the paint has not adhered well to the support – again typical of these works – has resulted in losses to the entire pictorial surface (particularly notable in the area of Saint Martin and his horse), while the extremely large re-lining applied in the 20th century has caused distortions to the original support that have affected some of the figures. The adhesive used for the re-lining has penetrated the highly porous support and paint surface and this fact, together with an earlier application of polyester varnish, has altered the matte, velvety appearance that should be typical of tuchleins, resulting in a darkened and inappropriately shiny surface. An x-ray taken at the Prado allows for a better appreciation than is possible with a surface examination of the way in which the artist applied some of the paint strokes, particularly in the outlines and above all the draperies, using rapid, confident brushstrokes typical of Bruegel the Elder. The x-ray also allows for an appreciation of the painting’s true physical state and reveals that many of the areas of surface paint loss are relatively minor. This is clearly evident in the landscape at the upper left with a port city and boats not visible to the naked eye, as well as much of the city gate and the building to its left.


A. Philippot, N. Goetghebeur and R. Guislain-Wittermann, “L’adoration des mages de Bruegel au Musée des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles. Traitement d’un ‘Tuechlein’”, Bulletin de l’Institut Royal du Patrimoine artistique, XI, 1969, pp. 5-33.


In May 2010 the present authors had the opportunity to make a close study of the tuchleins in the Museo di Capodimonte, which were taken out of their display cases. However, no studies have been undertaken to date on the supports and materials used in these two works, nor are there any x-rays or infra-red reflectography images that would allow for a comparison with the linen support of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day.

Research prior to restoration

Research prior to restoration

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[...].

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).

The painting’s provenance (Gonzaga (?), Medinaceli)

The first known, documented owner of the present work was Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragón, 9th Duke of Medinaceli (1660-1711), who probably acquired it during the years that he spent in Italy, first as Spanish Ambassador in Rome (1687-1696), then as Viceroy in Naples (1696-1702)14. The inventory of his collection reveals its remarkable quality and the fact that it included paintings of the importance of The Spinners by Velázquez and Rubens painting the Allegory of Peace by Luca Giordano (both Museo del Prado). The present work appears in that inventory as number 39:

"Otra de Bruguel con la fiesta de san Martín y sus hijos q. tiene de largo tres varas y de alto zinco pies marco moldado y dorado no.144…8000 rs. [Another by Bruegel of the Feast of Saint Martin and his children which measures three varas wide and five feet high moulded and gilded frame no.144...8,000 reales.]

The extremely high value placed on the work is striking, particularly if compared, for example, to the value of 3,000 reales assigned to The Spinners, which appears as number 18 in this inventory.

The painting was in Spain no later than 1702 if not before. This was the year in which the 9th Duke left his post as Viceroy of Naples and returned to the Madrid court. Since that date it has been in the collection of the same family.

It is highly likely that the present work is the same one that was to be found in the early 17th century in the celebrated Gonzaga collection in Mantua. Numerous works from that collection subsequently made their way into the Spanish royal collections and from there to the Prado. In the inventory of that collection drawn up in 1626-27 there is a reference to a painting in the Galleria della Mostra in the ducal palace in Mantua, the same gallery in which Andrea Mantegna’s nine Triumphs of Caesar were displayed:

"Un quadro dipintovi la festa di S. Martino con una quantità di pitochi che bevano ad una botta, opera del Bruol Vecchio, L.36015

[A picture in which is painted the feast of Saint Martin with many poor people drinking from a barrel, a work of Bruegel the Elder, 360 Liras]

This painting, like others attributed to Bruegel in the Gonzaga collection, was acquired by Duke Vincenzo II, a great connoisseur of Flemish painting and a patron of Rubens, possibly during the trip that he made to Flanders in 160816. The painting again has a high value placed on it in the inventory in comparison to other works (for example, The Burial of Christ by Titian, now in the Louvre, which is valued at 300 liras, and The Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio, also in the Louvre, valued at 600 liras). Despite the fact that it is firmly attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the inventory does not state whether it is a tuchlein or is painted on some other type of support as it is simply referred to as “un quadro”, nor is its size given. Nonetheless, the description is sufficiently precise to allow the painting to be identified as depicting The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day.

Some art historians have identified this description in the Gonzaga inventory with the fragment now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, formerly in the collection of the Archduke Leopold William, according to the 1659 inventory17, but which is not an original work by Bruegel, as noted above, for which reason this identification can be questioned. While it is not known how the Gonzaga painting could have come into the possession of the 9th Duke of Medinaceli, the fact in itself would not be surprising.


Vicente Lleó Cañal published the inventory of the collection assembled by the Duke (Burlington Magazine, vol. 131, no. 1031, pp. 108-116). Although Lleó published it as the inventory of Luis Francisco, it includes works that belonged to his nephew and successor, the 10th Duke, albeit separated from those belonging to his predecessor. It seems highly likely that this inventory was not drawn up immediately after the death of Luis Francisco in 1711 but at some time soon after this when his nephew, Nicolás Fernández de Córdoba, Marquis of Priego and Duke of Feria, acquired ownership of his predecessor’s possessions when he assumed the title of 10th Duke of Medinaceli, and the inventory must have been among his papers. This is proved by the phrase that appears in the inventory itself: Inventario General de Todos los trastos y Vienes Muebles pertenecientes a la Cassa del Exmo. Sr. Marques [de Priego] Duque de Medinaceli, mi Señor.


A. Luzio, La Galleria Gonzaga, 1913, p. 104.


D. Mattioli, “Nuove ipotesi sui quadri di ‘Bruol Vecchio’ appartenuti ai Gonzaga”, Civiltà Mantovana, X (1976), pp. 32-43.


See S. Lapenta and R. Morselli, La Collezione Gonzaga. La Quadreria nell’elenco dei beni del 1626-1627, Milan, 2006, [892], p. 228.


In line with the arguments set out above it can be stated that the tuchlein of The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day is an original, signed work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Its size makes it the largest known work by the artist to have survived, in which Bruegel presented a complex composition that reveals his mastery in the depiction of a large number of interconnected figures in a wide range of dynamic poses, painted with enormous skill “alla prima”, directly with the brush onto the unprimed linen support.

Given that part of the date at the lower left corner is missing it is not possible to give a precise date for the work. Stylistically, it conforms to the final years of Bruegel’s career, between 1565 and 1568, when the artist depicted larger figures with a greater sense of emotional expressivity.

The identification of this painting as by the hand of Pieter Bruegel the Elder makes it one of the most important discoveries for many years with regard to his oeuvre. This is a unique work due to its subject matter and the way in which Bruegel resolved the composition. In addition, the small number of surviving works by the artist (only three of which are in private hands) and the fact that it comes from a historic collection of recognised quality and importance – that of the Medinaceli ducal house  – all demonstrate the outstanding and exceptional importance of its acquisition for the Museo del Prado.

Gabriele Finaldi, Deputy Director for Collections and Research

Pilar Silva Maroto, Head of the Department of Spanish Painting (1100-1500) and Flemish Painting and Northern Schools (1400-1600)

Museo Nacional del Prado, September 2010