But the presence of some cows – specifically, their rear ends – was a clue to the paintings illustrious history.
The work had languished for decades in a drawer at Birmingham Museum, and attributed to an anonymous artist, when it was spotted by Dr Bendor Grosvenor, art historian and presenter of the BBC series Britains Lost Masterpieces.
Inspecting the painting close-up for the programme, he said: Im drawn to the cows, particularly the rear ends of them. Now, if there is one artist in particular who loved the back end of a cow, it is Bruegel the Elder.
Dr Grosvenor set out to prove that the landscape was the work of the Flemish artist. Scientific analysis dated the wood on which it was painted to the end of the 16th century.
The real breakthrough came when Simon Gillespie, a restoration expert, set about cleaning it and stripping away the layers of paint.
He found that it was a detailed rural scene of villagers picking apples for cider-making. The figures of people and animals were striking in their brilliance, and stood out from the rest of the canvas.
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