Spain Discovers a Bawdy Unknown Work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Spain Discovers a Bawdy Unknown Work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Art history books currently record a total of 40 works signed by the 16th century Netherlandish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. But now, after a surprising discovering in Spain, it seems those texts will need to be rewritten. Researchers at Madrid’s Prado Museum have announced that they have discovered a previously unknown work by the master, a sprawling, 5-by-9-foot tempera-on-linen peasant scene called "The Wine of St. Martin’s Day."

The work is owned by private collectors, who brought it to the Prado to have it studied in advance of a planned sale. According to the BBC, those owners had no idea the work was made by Dutch master, who is renowned for his scenes of proletarian life that range from rollicking dance parties to quiet journeys through the snowy hills of Northern Europe. An X-ray examination of the work revealed part of the artist’s signature.

Scholars who have examined the work, which depicts a group of 100 or so people celebrating the first wine of the season, believe it was painted between 1565 and 1568. Like many Bruegel's most famous images, the work shows a fair amount of debauchery: men, women, and children, are shown battling for the first sip of delicious wine in a scrum that includes many less-than-savory characters.

The Prado is now reportedly in discussions with the owners to purchase the work, and the figure of €7 million ($9.4 million) has been floated as a possible asking price. Spanish newspaper El Pais has pegged the work’s value at €25 million ($33.53 million), and officials in Spain have expressed their commitment to purchasing the work. "The discovery of a Bruegel is an exceptional event and not something that is likely to be repeated," the Spanish culture minister Angeles Gonzalez Sinde said, the BBC reports.

Despite their stated interest in acquiring the work, the Spanish government may have to work hard to raise the money. In May, the ruling government slashed the national budget by €15 million ($18.5 million), trying to close a budget deficit that some experts, like writer Michael Lewis, have warned could lead to the bankruptcy of the Spanish government — particularly if Greece defaults on its enormous national debt that resulted from excesses not so far removed from the scenes that the Dutch master once portrayed.