Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe 08/06/2018 – 16/09/2018

Kumu Art Museum
Adult: Kumu Art Museum
  • Family: Kumu Art Museum
  • Discount: Kumu Art Museum
  • Adult ticket with donation: Art Museum of Estonia

Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe

Location: 2nd floor, Great Hall

  • National Gallery of Art, Washington 28 January – 13 May 2018, curator John Oliver Hand
  • Art Museum of Estonia – Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn 8 June – 16 September 2018, curator Greta Koppel

In 2018, the Art Museum of Estonia, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, is organising a large-scale exhibition on Michel Sittow (ca 1469–1525), a painter from Estonia who became a sought-after and highly renowned artist in the royal courts of Europe at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The acclaimed master had been forgotten for centuries when documents found in the Tallinn city archives identified this historical individual a few decades ago. Now, nearly 500 years after his death, his first solo exhibition is being organised.

Today, experts on Netherlandish art highly value Michel Sittow’s paintings, which are exquisitely executed. His oeuvre, which covers a period of about twenty years, is scattered among famous museums around the world: the Louvre, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the National Galleries in London and Washington DC, etc. Several of the master’s paintings have been included in large exhibitions, but until now a solo exhibition of Michel Sittow’s works has never been organised.

Michel Sittow, who was born in Tallinn, acquired his art training in the studio of his father, Clawes van der Sittow, who was a respected painter and wood carver. In 1484, the young artist headed to Bruges, the art centre of the Netherlands at the time, probably to work in the studio of Hans Memling, a German who was the town’s most sought-after master. There he learned the illusionist technique typical of the Netherlandish school of painting. From 1492 to 1504, Michel Sittow was in the service of Isabella of Castile, and later worked as a portraitist for Philip the Handsome, Margaret of Austria, Ferdinand of Aragon and Christian II of Denmark. Sittow returned to his home-town of Tallinn, first in 1506 in connection with an inheritance dispute, when he joined the local artists’ guild. In 1514, Sittow left for Copenhagen at the invitation of King Christian II, and from there he went on to Spain and the Netherlands. The famous portraitist returned to Tallinn for good in early 1518.

With his diverse heritage (a family with German and Finnish-Swedish roots living in Tallinn) and cosmopolitan career, Sittow did not fit in with the national narrative of art history that prevailed in the first half of the 20th century, but which is all the more relevant in the current European context.

The international exhibition project, which includes multi-faceted collaboration with centres in Europe and the United States, brings Sittow’s extraordinary works from distinguished museums and private collection to his first solo exhibition. This is a unique platform for a broader introduction and further research on the oeuvre of this remarkable artist. Most of Sittow’s small number of works (20 to 25 paintings) are on exhibit, thereby providing an excellent survey of his work as a portraitist and painter of religious works. It also allows us to view his art in a broader context, including in collaboration with Juan de Flandes and other contemporary Netherlandish artists. In addition to the paintings, another section of the exhibition is comprised of a timeline that provides an overview of the 500-year story of Michel Sittow, from his birth and successful career to his fall into oblivion and rediscovery.

The exhibition, which is a collaborative project of the Art Museum of Estonia and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, will take place in 2018 in celebration of the centenary of the Republic of Estonia. This year also marks 500 years since Michel Sittow’s final return to his home-town of Tallinn.


Curators: Greta Koppel (Art Museum of Estonia), John Oliver Hand (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)
Exhibition design: Tõnis Saadoja
The exhibition’s graphic identity and creative director: Asko Künnap
Graphic design: Tuuli Aule, Külli Kaats, Kätlin Tischler, RAKETT
Project manager: Inga Jaagus

Lenders: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Detroit Institute of Arts, Vienna Museum of Art History, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp; National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen; Royal Collection, National Heritage Board, Palacio Real de Madrid; Musée du Louvre, Paris; Berlin State Museums, Gemäldegalerie; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest; Royal Cabinet of Paintings, Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; The National Gallery (Private collection), London; Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust), United Kingdom; Private collection, courtesy of the Het Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Estonia, Government Office of the Republic of Estonia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia, Estonian Public Broadcasting, Tallinn City Government, Estonian Heritage Board, CODART, Art Museum of Estonia Friends of Art Society