Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
Property of a Private European Collector
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)

A Drunkard pushed into a Pigsty

Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
A Drunkard pushed into a Pigsty
oil on panel, circular
7 7/8 in. (20 cm.), diameter
Anonymous sale; A. Mak, Amsterdam, 12 April 1921, lot 19 (bought by Duits).
with Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, by 1921.
Acquired by the husband of the present owner in Vienna the 1950s.

K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38): Die Gemälde mit Kritischem OEuvrekatalog, Lingen, 1988/2000, II, p. 209, no. A116, fig. 116, as by a 'good-quality follower of Pieter I'.
Vienna, Palais Pallavicini, Die jüngeren Breughel und ihr Kreis, 16 March-15 April 1935, no. 62.

Lot Essay

This painting presents an unique treatment of the subject by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, whose other known versions rely on an original composition by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (sold Christie’s, London, 10 July 2002, lot 37). Ertz, who previously catalogued this roundel as a by a ‘good-quality follower of Pieter I’ judging from photographs (op. cit.), now fully endorses the attribution to Brueghel the Younger, having examined the work at first hand (May 2018).

Brueghel was clearly aware of his father’s rendition of the subject, either in the original, which belonged to Gillis van Coninxloo II (1544-1606), under whom Brueghel the Younger had trained between circa 1578 and 1585; or through the engraving made by Jan Wierix (1549-1618). Brueghel the Younger painted two known versions of his father’s composition: the first, in a private collection, is signed ‘BRE.EL’; and the second, in the Historisches Museum, Bamberg, is signed with monogram. However, when he came to treat the subject in this painting, he departed from his father’s design in the direction of the action, which is now from left to right, by adding trees in the background. In these respects, the Younger’s version is closer to a slightly later version of Wierix’s print, published by Claes Jansz. Visscher (fig. 1), however, the arrangement of the figures and their characterisation are entirely Brueghel’s own invention.

The design of the roundel reflects its original purpose as a painted plate. Such objects had long been made in the Netherlands, with specialist artists, called telijoorschilders, recorded in Antwerp from 1570 onwards. These objects were often designed to be purchased as part of a series. Other versions of A Drunkard pushed into a Pigsty, like that in Bamberg Historiches Museum, were designed as part of a set of four, with the other roundels showing The Arrow Maker, The Bread Eater and The Gift. Each of these subjects possessed a moralising message: The Arrow Maker is assumed to have referred to the foolishness of human division, in particular the division of the Spanish Netherlands; The Bread Eater is thought, from the old man at the window and the broken tree sprouting anew, to be a memento mori; and The Gift as a warning against vanity and folly, the bed in the background suggesting what the woman might give for the mirror that she covets.

A Drunkard pushed into a Pigsty likewise carries an overtly moralising message, based on a popular Netherlandish proverb: ‘The pig must go into the stall’. Visscher’s engraving was accompanied by a quatrain, explaining more completely the moral significance (possibly adapted from a lost inscription originally on the frame of Pieter Bruegel I’s work): ‘Die haer goet als droncken Swynen Brengen door in Venus Kott Moeten nae elendich quynen Endelyck int Varckensschott’ (Those who, like drunken pigs, waste their time and good in the house of Venus, will in the end have to be pushed, after miserable decay, into the pigsty). The combination of drunkenness, gluttony and lust is all referred to in the iconograph of this picture. These vices of excess – gastronomic, alcoholic and, by extension, sexual - had long been associated with pigs in Northern European culture. During the Carnival season, the consumption of pork greatly increased as part of the celebrations, constituting an excessive indulgence for the majority of the population who were not usually able to afford such a luxury. This in turn led to an increased concern over the lowering of morals since an over-consumption of meat was considered to stimulate an overactive carnal appetite. Those indulging in drunkenness, lasciviousness and excess were frequently described as pigs. A popular sixteenth-century saying referred to ‘een vermoordt dronckaert als een zwijn’ (a besotted drunkard like a swine) and popular plays and poems made frequent use of such analogies.

This work is accompanied by a certificate from Dr. Klaus Ertz.

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