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The Wine of Saint Martin's Day
Bruegel the Elder, Pieter
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Bruegel the Elder, Pieter

Bruegel (Netherlands) (?), 1525 - Brussels (Belgium), 1569

See author's file

The Wine of Saint Martin's Day

1566 - 1567. Glue-size on twill / twill weave canvas.
Room 055A

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 1980. The author, who had not seen the painting at first hand, attributed it to Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

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 Nacional. 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 painting. 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.

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. 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 (Technical and documentary report. The Wine of Saint Martin`s Day, Website of the Prado Museum, Research, Reports).


Technical data

Inventory number
Bruegel the Elder, Pieter
The Wine of Saint Martin's Day
1566 - 1567
Twill / twill weave canvas
Height: 148 cm; Width: 270.5 cm
Before 1626, Gonzaga Collection, Dukes of Mantua(?); before 1662, Muselli de Verona Collection(?); before 1702, Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragón, IX Duke of Medinaceli; Medinaceli Collection; spanish private Collection until 2010.

Bibliography +

Bastelaer, Rene Van, Peter Bruegel L'Ancien. Son Oeuvre et Son Temps, G.Van Oest and Cie., 1907, pp. 312-314 / A32.

Friedländer, Max J., Early netherlandish painting, A.W.Sijthoff, 1967, pp. 20 / 7nº8.

Philippot, A. Goetghebeur, N. Guislain-Wittermann, R., L´adoration des mages de Bruegel au Musée des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles. Traitement d´un -Tuechlein-, Bulletin Institut royal du patrimoine artistique IRPA, XI, 1969, pp. 5-33.

Marlier, Georges, Pierre Brueghel Le Jeune, Robert Finck, 1969, pp. 327.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, La obra de Pedro Brueghel el Joven en España, Archivo español de arte, LIII, 1980, pp. 289-318 / 13.

Seipel, Wilfried, Pieter Brueghel D. A. Beiheft. Erganzenden Leihgaben Zur Au..., Kunsthistorichen Museum, 1997, pp. 150.

Sellink, Manfred, Bruegel: the complete paintings, drawings and prints, Ludion, 2007.

Sullivan, Margaret, Bruegel and the creative process, 1559-1563, Ashgate, 2010, pp. 15-51.

Finaldi, Gabriele, El vino de la fiesta de San Martín. Pieter Bruegel el Viejo, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2010.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Memoria de actividades 2010, Madrid, 2011, pp. 16-40.

Silver, Larry, Pieter Bruegel, Abbeville Press Publishers, 2011, pp. 3.

Silva, M. P., Sellink, M., Mora, E., Pieter Bruegel el Viejo. El vino de la fiesta de San Martín., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2011.

Silva, P. Sellink, M., The rediscovery of Pieter Bruegel the Elder`s 'Win of St. Martin`s Day' adquired for the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, The Burlington magazine, CLIII, 2011, pp. 748-793.

Sellink, Manfred, Bruegel in detail, Ludion, [Belgium], 2014, pp. 24,91,279 n.48.

van de Coelen, P. Lammertse, F, De ontdekking van het dagelijks leven van Bosch tot Bruegel., Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, 2015, pp. 224-229 fg.209.

Santos Bueso, Enrique, Oftalmología en el Museo del Prado, Gertograf, 2015, pp. 58.

Porras, Stephanie, Pieter Bruegel's historical imagination, The Pennsylvania State University Press,, 2016, pp. 104-105 f.54.

Sellink, Manfred, ''El triunfo de la Muerte' y 'El vino de la fiesta de San Martín'': Dos obras maestras del Museo del Prado' En:, Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado: Círculo de lectores, Madrid, 2017, pp. 165-181.

Walsh, Martin W., Grotesque versions of the charity of St. Martin in the Bosch and Bruegel schools, Essays in Medieval studies, pp. 14.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2813.

Inscriptions +

Signed. Front, lower left corner

M.D.L [...]
Dated. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in yellow. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

El vino en la fiesta de S. Martín de Bruegel 'El viejo'
12.12.2011 - 25.03.2012

Location +

Room 055A (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 23-02-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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