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Michel Sittow in the North? Artistic Contacts in the Late Medieval Baltic Sea Region

2 November - 3 November 2023

Michel Sittow in the North? Artistic Contacts in the Late Medieval Baltic Sea Region

Research Conference: 2 November - 3 November 2023

The Niguliste Museum in Estonia is organizing the international conference Michel Sittow in the North? Artistic contacts in the late medieval Baltic Sea region on the occasion of the exhibition Michel Sittow in the North? Altarpieces in Dialogue and the research project of the same name.

The conference will focus on the role of Michel Sittow‘s (ca. 1469–1525) workshop in Tallinn and its positioning in the context of the artist’s home-town and the Baltic Sea region. Born in the multinational and multilingual Hanseatic town Tallinn and trained in Bruges, Michel Sittow was a highly acclaimed artist and portrait painter in European royal courts. However, he did not stay abroad permanently, living and working in his home-town for fifteen years, from 1506 to 1514 and from 1518 to 1525. In Tallinn, he undertook commissions from merchants and the town council, as well as from local and Nordic churches. Written sources note works for the Tallinn, Tartu and Siuntio churches in Livonia and Finland.

Through style critical analysis, it is possible to attribute the paintings of the outer side of the wings of the Tallinn Passion altarpiece and the paintings of the Bollnäs Holy Kinship retable in northern Sweden to Michel Sittow´s workshop in Tallinn. Close inspection and comparative studies of the two altarpieces have provided new insights into the ties between the works and the history of their creation. The sculptural corpus of the Bollnäs altarpiece, executed with exceptional skill, is stylistically related to several works of art that have survived in Tallinn and the surrounding regions. This has drawn attention to the masters who were active in Tallinn at the same time as Sittow, to their possible collaboration and to the significance of Tallinn as a late medieval art city.

The wealthy Hanseatic city of Tallinn was a commissioner, a mediator and a creator of art. Trade connections and social networks connected the residents with large and small centres. Medieval artistic links between Estonia and Finland, and Tallinn’s significance to the North were examined at a seminar in Helsinki in autumn 2022. In art historiography, research on the Baltic Sea region’s artistic heritage has mostly focused on works by Lübeck masters and Netherlandish artists. However, the political and economic changes of the fifteentth and sixteenth centuries also shaped the art market in the North: the declining Lübeck was overtaken by the art centres of Flanders and Brabant, and the production and export of art in smaller centres in Prussia and Livonia, on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea, increasingly flourished.

The presentations at the conference will be derived from the preserved works of Michel Sittow, his workshop in Tallinn and other masters who were active in Tallinn at the same time. Based on the surviving material evidence, the papers will examine the question of the place of the Tallinn and Bollnäs altarpieces in the oeuvre of the famous master, as well as their genealogy, through a close analysis of the artworks. The innovative synthesis of different artistic impulses and traditions, and the adaptation, imitation and adoption of foreign works of art into local artistic traditions will also be examined. The focus is on the practices of the late medieval artist-craftsman’s workshop, including how cooperation between masters in different fields worked, and whether and to what extent we can distinguish the work of the master from that of his assistants. In addition to individual works, the presentations will also consider the significance of Tallinn as an art center in the Baltic Sea region, the emerging art cities of Prussia and the artists who worked there, as well as church art in the North, including Finland and Sweden.

More information about the progam and how to sign up can be found here.

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