Spanish experts discover rare Bruegel

Restorers in Spain's Prado museum have revealed a rare, previously unknown work by the 16th century Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The painting, "The Wine of Saint Martin's Day", is only the 41st known signed work by Bruegel in the world and is among the largest at 148 cm by 271.5 cm (4 ft 10" by 8ft 11").

It depicts dozens of people in various states of drunkenness, described by the Prado as "a sort of Tower of Babel composed of wine drinkers".

The Madrid museum had been restoring the painting since February and was able to identify it conclusively when an X-Ray revealed fragments of Bruegel's signature at the bottom of the canvas.

Bruegel painted it in tempera, a technique he rarely used joining pigments with an emulsion of water and glue. The artist more often used oils. The painting was dated at between 1565 and 1568.

Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde said the discovery was an "exceptional event" as the painting was shown in public Thursday for the first time.

According to a report in the daily El Pais newspaper Friday, the ministry is in talks to purchase the Renaissance work from its unidentified owners for seven million euros (nine million dollars), as little as a third of its estimated market value.

Prado management declined to give a price.

Gonzalez-Sinde said only that the museum had a chance to buy it at a "very advantageous price" and every effort would be made to ensure that the negotiations were successful.

The owners wanted the painting to be part of a Spanish public collection rather than allowing it to leave the country and become part of a private collection, she said.

Pilar Silva, head of the Prado's Flemish art section, said the painting needed another nine months of restoration work. It would be only the second Bruegel to hang at the Prado after "The Triumph of Death".