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Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
Property from an Iberian Private Collection (Lots 14-15)
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)

The King Drinks

Details
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
The King Drinks
signed and dated 'P· BREUGHEL · 1620 ·' (lower centre)
oil on panel
29 x 41¾ in. (43.7 x 106 cm.)
Provenance
In the family of the present owners for more than sixty years.
Sale Room Notice
Please note the measurements should read 29 x 41¾ in. (73.7 x 106 cm.).

Brought to you by

Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

This is an unpublished autograph treatment of a subject known in just three other versions by Pieter Brueghel II (K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen, 2000, p. 534, nos. E576-E578). The composition is traditionally thought to derive from a lost prototype by Marten van Cleve (c. 1527-1581) who was a contemporary of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and the inventor of several other compostions taken up by the younger Brueghel. The coarseness of the figures and the rigid compositional framework, which is established by the three-sided room, are elements that are distinctly reminiscent of Van Cleve. Notwithstanding this, Klaus Ertz has argued that the composition is more an invention by Brueghel that is only loosely based upon concepts of Van Cleve's (as displayed, for example, in an engraving after the latter by Balthasar van den Bos; ibid., p. 525, fig. 393).

Of the three other treatments noted above, this work is very closely related to what has been considered the prime version, which is also signed and dated 1620 (ibid., no. E576). The two pictures appear to be almost identical in their details and execution (only the positioning of the signatures is very slightly different), making it seem plausible that they were painted simultaneously.

The feast depicted is that of Epiphany, celebrated either on 6 January - the thirteenth day after Christmas - or on the preceding evening (Twelfth Night). After returning from church, the company would gather for a large meal, at the start of which one of those present would be chosen as king by casting lots or by serving cakes, of which one included a bean, the discoverer of which was designated king (hence the alternative name for the theme in artistic depictions: The Bean King). The king would then be given a paper crown and organise the members of the court: typically a queen, jester, cook, musician, master of ceremonies, taster and porter. The highlight of the evening was the moment the king lifted the glass to take the first sip, at which the company would shout as loudly as possible 'The king drinks!', after which the main celebrations would begin.

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