Conference “Michel Sittow in the North? Artistic contacts in the late medieval Baltic Sea region” 02/11/2023 – 03/11/2023

Niguliste Museum
Theme event

Conference “Michel Sittow in the North? Artistic contacts in the late medieval Baltic Sea region”

The Niguliste Museum cordially invites you to join us for 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 (04.05–05.11.2023, Art Museum of Estonia – Niguliste Museum) and the international research project of the same name (2021–2024).

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 15th and 16th 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 centre 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.

The conference is part of the international research and exhibition project Michel Sittow in the North? Altarpieces in Dialogue (2021–2024).

Conference videos are available in Youtube

PDF Abstracts booklet


Thursday, 02.11

9.45–10.00 Opening remarks

10.00–11.15 Panel I
Chair: Krista Kodres

Merike Kurisoo (Art Museum of Estonia)
Michel Sittow’s workshop and the Tallinn masters in the North. New research questions and perspectives
Greta Koppel (Art Museum of Estonia)
Two works from Michel Sittow’s workshop in Tallinn?

11.15–11.30 Coffee break

11.30–12.45 Panel II
Chair: Krista Kodres

Jan Friedrich Richter (Berlin State Museums)
Michel Sittow in the North? Tallinn on the way to becoming an art centre
Andrzej Woziński (University of Gdańsk)
Centres of sculpture in Prussia in the second half of the 15th and early 16th cen-
turies. The genesis of their work, mutual artistic exchange, production for external customers and external reception

12.45–13.45 Lunch

13.45–15.00 Panel III
Chair: Stephan Kemperdick

Till-Holger Borchert (Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen)
Master, workshop, and the theory and practice of the genera “pingenda”
Matthias Weniger (Bavarian National Museum in Munich)
Michel Sittow and his oeuvre, revised once again

15.00–15.15 Coffee break

15.15–16.30 Panel IV
Chair: Elina Räsänen

Michael Rief (Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen)
Antetype. Emulation. Hybrid. The influence of Netherlandish altarpieces on German production in the 15th and 16th centuries and the use of prefabricated,
ready-made Brabantine retable shrines
Carina Jacobsson (Uppsala University)
The murder in the cathedral, the confraternity of the rosary and the Virgin Mary altarpiece in Strängnäs

18.00 Concert. Early music ensemble Rondellus: Nordic Saints and Songs
Nordic medieval music performed by the early music ensemble Rondellus

Friday, 03.11

9.30–10.45 Panel V
Chair: Merike Kurisoo

Lars Nylander (Hälsingland Museum)
Late medieval altarpieces and sculptures in Hälsingland churches. Objecthood, production and consumption
Elina Räsänen (University of Helsinki and Åbo Academi University)
Polychrome sculpture of Job and its “home”, the parish church of Helsinge

10.45–11.00 Coffee break

11.00–12.15 Panel VI
Chair: Greta Koppel

Kerttu Palginõmm (Art Museum of Estonia)
The role of the Franciscans in the depiction of Jerusalem on the Tallinn Passion altarpiece
Carlos Alonso Pérez Fajardo (Cortes Tardogóticas research project)
A museological challenge. Spanish 15th century heritage and its projection

12.15–12.45 Concluding discussion and closing remarks
Chair: Stephan Kemperdick (Berlin State Museums)

Saturday, 04.11

10.30 A guided walking tour on Michel Sittow’s paths through Tallinn’s Old Town in English. Gathering at the Niguliste Museum


The conference will bring together art historians, curators and conservators from Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Poland, Spain, and Sweden:

Carlos Alonso Perez-Fajardo, a Spanish art historian and curator, and a member of the research project Cortes Tardogóticas, Complutense University of Madrid (Spain)
Till-Holger Borchert, the director of the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen
Dr Carina Jacobsson, a docent and senior lecturer in art history at Uppsala University
Dr Stephan Kemperdick, a curator of Early Netherlandish and Early German Painting of the Gemäldegalerie of the Berlin State Museums
Dr Krista Kodres, a professor of art history at the Estonian Academy of Arts
Dr Greta Koppel, a curator of the Dutch and Flemish art collection at the Kadriorg Art Museum, Art Museum of Estonia
Dr Merike Kurisoo, a curator-programme manager at the Niguliste Museum, Art Museum of Estonia
Lars Nylander, a curator at the Hälsingland Museum
Dr Kerttu Palginõmm, a curator at the Niguliste Museum, Art Museum of Estonia
Dr Jan Friedrich Richter, a curator at the Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum) of the Berlin State Museums
Michael Rief, the head of collections and a deputy director at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen
Dr Elina Räsänen, a senior lecturer in art history at the University of Helsinki and a docent of Medieval Art History in the Åbo Academi University
Dr Matthias Weniger, a curator for sculpture and paintings from before 1550 at the Bavarian National Museum (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum) in Munich (München)
Dr Andrzej Woziński, a professor of art history at the University of Gdańsk

Workshops with short presentations by conservators and researchers:

Isabel Aaso-Zahradnikova (Art Museum of Estonia), Johanna Lamp (Art Museum of Estonia), Madara Rasina (leading restorer SIA “Aqua Latvia”, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic) and Andres Uueni (Estonian Academy of Arts and Archaeovision OÜ).

Head of the programme and chief organiser: Merike Kurisoo
Programme committee: Greta Koppel, Tarmo Saaret, Jan Friedrich Richter

We thank: Kersti Tiik, Kadi Raudalainen, Tuuli Aule, Kristiina Lott, Laura Tahk, Kaidi Saavan, Richard Adang

Additional information

Merike Kurisoo, PhD

Chair of the Research Board of the Art Museum of Estonia