CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Stories of Michel Sittow’s Life and Art. Facts and Fables

Symposium: 14 September - 15 September 2018

The Art Museum of Estonia in Tallinn is organizing a two-day symposium on the occasion of the exhibition on Michel Sittow from 14 – 15 September 2018. Speakers include the exhibition curators Greta Koppel and John Hand, Till-Holger Borchert, Ariane van Suchtelen, Matthias Weniger, Troels Filtenborg, Anu Mänd, Hilkka Hiiop and Johanna Lamp.

Register before 1 September 2018 at

The exhibition Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe was organized by the Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 28 January-13 May, 2018, and is exhibited at the Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, 8 June-16 September, 2018.

Stories of Michel Sittow’s Life and Art

The life and art of Michel Sittow (ca. 1469–1525) is mostly unknown territory. There are fragments of information in the documents from Sittow’s life time scattered in archives across Europe (Spain, France, Germany, Estonia etc.) and a number of paintings, also scattered across the world, that are believed to be by him. Very few of the works can be attributed to the artist with confidence; there are no signed works and the majority of the works mentioned in documents have not survived.

The artist, who once enjoyed the patronage of Europe’s greatest rulers and had a successful international career as a court painter, vanished into oblivion for centuries. The identity of “a phantom artist” whose name appeared in documents from different countries in various forms, such as Melchior Alemán, Michiel Flamenco, Miguel Zittoz, Michel Sittau, Meister Michiel etc., and was considered most likely to be of Netherlandish origin, was recovered by the historian Paul Johansen from the documents in Lubeck and the Tallinn City Archives only in 1940. Since then there have been attempts to reconstruct his life and work. The first monograph of Sittow (1976) discussed 59 works connected to the artist, but only half were regarded as authentic. An even more drastic revision of Sittow’s oeuvre was provided in 2011 by Matthias Weniger, whose catalogue raisonné includes 111 works of art, but confirms only 13 paintings as definite. The artist’s activities were connected to very different environments: he worked as an artist at the courts of Renaissance Europe and as an artisan (and an alderman of a guild) in the Late Medieval Hanseatic merchant town of Reval, and therefore the works he produced and that were ascribed to him here and there were of very different character. There are many different stories, conflicting attributions and very little hard evidence, but still there are apparently honest and plausible explanations.

The symposium lectures and discussions treat verifiable facts, present technical documentation of Sittow’s definite works in comparison to the detailed presentations of works attributed to the artist based on stylistic analyses. How can we interpret the fragments of material evidence? The symposium that accompanies the first monographic exhibition of the artist aims to take a new look at this artist and to promote interest in future studies.

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