Saint Martin is depicted in accordance with traditional iconography, sharing his cloak with a beggar who has come out to meet him with other needy people. In the background we see several celebrations related to the Feast of Saint Martin in the Low Countries. This feast was banned by the Council of Trent because of the depravity of the celebrants, since it was when the first wine of the year was drunk.
Saint Martin shares his cloak with a poor man
In the foreground, Saint Martin, on horseback, shares his cloak with one of the beggars who has come to meet him. Saint Martin of Tours was born in Hungary in 316AD and died in 397AD in France. The most famous miracle associated with him took place during the cold winter of the year 337AD, when he found a beggar near the gates of the city of Amiens, shivering in the cold. Martin gave him half of his cloak, since the other half belonged to the Roman army in which he served. The following night, Christ appeared to him dressed in the half-cloak to thank him for his charity. This is the most commonly-depicted episode related to Saint Martin, although in this one he is dressed in fifteenth-century clothing.
Beggars and cripples
In the tapestry, the beggars and cripples surrounding Saint Martin resemble those depicted in the paintings of the Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel, who also depicted The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day, when the feasts and wine-drinking took place in the city outskirts. This canvas of Brueghel the Elder has recently been acquired by the Museo del Prado. This painting by Bosch, which is now lost, could be a possible antecedent for Brueghel’s work.
Saint Martin’s wine
On the feast day of Saint Martin, 11th November, Saint Martin’s goose was eaten and the first wine of the winter drunk, since it coincided with the end of the harvest and the distribution of wine in the town, especially in the Low Countries. The banquet scene inside the building which Saint Martin is emerging from could potentially allude to this festivity from the late Middle Ages. The barrel of wine occupies a prominent place and a crowd is piling up in the door to get to it. Because of the wine, these feasts, a prelude to Carnival, were riddled with excess, and consequently banned by the Council of Trent. On this occasion, the pernicious effects of the festivities can be seen in the unconscious characters and those who are fighting beside the barrel.
The wild boar hunt
Another of the Flemish festivities depicted in Bosch’s lost paintings is taking place outside the building. We know that these lost paintings decorated the Alcázar of Madrid during Philip II’s reign, and one of them depicted the blind men hunting a wild boar. Here, in order to protect themselves from the animal, they are wearing sixteenth-century armour and attempting to bring down the boar with clubs, in front of a bustling group of spectators who are kept behind a wooden fence.
Mistaken for Saint Anthony
For many years the iconography of this tapestry was associated with the tapestry of “Saint Anthony in prayer”, since it was believed to depict the moment when Saint Anthony abandoned his pleasant life in the city to become a hermit in the desert.
Series Four tapestries after Hieronymus Bosch
First tapestry in the series
Model Inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch
Manufacture Unknown workshop, Brussels, before 1560
Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool
Size 296 x 364 cm
Location Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Origin Collection of Caridinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle
On display Halls of Honour
National Heritage Inv. n. 1005803