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Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe

Michel Sittow. Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe

Time: 08.06.18–16.09.18  10:00–18:00
Location: Kumu exhibition spaces

National Gallery of Art, Washington 28 January – 13 May 2018, curator John Oliver Hand
Art Museum of Estonia – The Kumu 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.

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

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.

A richly illustrated English-language catalogue accompanies the exhibition, and it was produced in collaboration with the following group of renowned international art historians and researchers: John Oliver Hand (National Gallery, Washington), Greta Koppel (Art Museum of Estonia), Till-Holger Borchert (Groeninge Museum, Bruges), Anu Mänd, PhD (Tallinn University), Matthias Weniger, PhD (Bavarian National Museum, Munich) and Ariane van Suchtelen (Mauritshuis, The Hague). The presentation of the catalogue by the curators, John Hand and Greta Koppel, will take place on Saturday, 9 June at 2 pm in the Kumu atrium.

In addition, an illustrated Estonian-language exhibition guide Michel Sittow. Euroopa meister. Madalmaade kunstnik. Tallinna kodanik will be published in the form of a book about Michel Sittow will be published. The author is the exhibition curator, Greta Koppel. The book provides a compact survey of Sittow’s life and work. The presentation will take place along with the catalogue presentation on 9 June at 2 pm in the Kumu atrium.

The illustrated children’s book Mina, Milda ja meister Michel, written by Anti Saar and illustrated by Urmas Viik, tells the story of Michel Sittow’s exciting life, and will be published for the opening of the exhibition at the Kumu Museum. The children’s book is only in Estonian. The authors will present the book at the first Sittow children’s corner on Sunday, 10 June from 1 pm to 3 pm in the Kumu atrium.

Come to the exhibition with the whole family! For children 8 to 12 years old, we have created an exciting activity sheet which helps explore the exhibition, get to know Michel Sittow’s days and the famous artist’s works. The activity sheet contains various tasks connected with the display. Ask for the activity sheet at the ticket counter! You can also borrow an activity bag for the children which contains various items to help adjust the tasks on the activity sheet for smaller children four to eight years old.

The best time to visit the exhibition with children is on Sundays from 1 to 3 pm, when the Kumu atrium becomes a Master’s workshop: an activity and crafts area on the theme of Michel Sittow.

In the exhibition hall, we have set up a children’s area, where young visitors can browse through a children’s book about Sittow, complete the tasks on the activity sheet and assemble large cubes into a jigsaw of Sittow’s paintings.

On 14 and 15 September 2018 during the last week of the exhibition, an international symposium called “The Stories of Michel Sittow’s Life and Art: Facts and Fiction” will take place in the Kumu auditorium. The best-known Michel Sittow experts will appear at the symposium and discuss the future of Sittow research based on the known information and existing gaps, and thereby place his art into a broader context.

More information, the schedule and registration available HERE

In addition to making an ordinary museum visit, there are also other opportunities for learning more about Michel Sittow’s art, life and era at both the Kumu and Niguliste Museums, or by just taking a stroll through the Old Town.

Events at Kumu

Opening weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, 9 and 10 June, you have a unique opportunity to participate in open tours at the Michel Sittow exhibition, guided by the curators Greta Koppel from the Art Museum of Estonia and John Hand from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, who will be flying to Tallinn for the grand opening. Over the weekend, you can also take a look at the books published in connection with the exhibition and buy them at a reduced price to have them signed by the authors. Read more.

Sittow master classes in Estonian and Russian. The master classes will be conducted after the museum is closed. They are designed to be private visits to the exhibition for those interested in delving into Michel Sittow’s world in peace and quiet accompanied by a curator. We recommend that you make your online purchase of a ticket for the master class in advance. Tickets on sale at Piletilevi.

Children’s activity corner. While the exhibition is open, a children’s activity corner will be organised every Sunday from 1 pm to 3 pm in the Kumu atrium, where children can enjoy Sittow-related activities before or after their visits to the exhibition, or while their parents are visiting it. Read more. 

Art Walk in English. The open tour will take place once a month at 3 pm on the following Sundays: 17 June, 29 July, and 26 August. Participation is free with an exhibition ticket. Read more.

Kumu city camp called “On the Secret Paths of Art Works – The Michel Sittow Special” in Estonian and Russian. The city camp is intended for 8- to 12-year-olds and will take place in June and August.

Kumu young people’s camp called “Art Journeys” in Estonian. The camp will take place in August and is intended for art-loving young people starting from the age of 13.

Bookable Kumu programmes

An hour-long tour with an Art Museum of Estonia guide. Read more.

An experience programme for young people and adults called “In the Master’s Footsteps”. A two-hour active introduction to the world of Michel Sittow and painting for groups of art lovers. Read more.

An experience programme for children called “How Did Michel Become a Master?” An exciting trip into the art world centuries ago. Read more.

Museum classes. Visits to the exhibition for students at various study levels that support school programmes.

Events at the Niguliste Museum

Theatrum’s summer production in Estonian based on Jaan Kross’s Neli monoloogi Püha Jüri asjus (Four Monologues on the St George Matter). The performance presents Jaan Kross’s view of Michel Sittow’s arrival back in his home-town of Tallinn in 1506, after having become a famous artist, in order to resolve an inheritance dispute with his stepfather. Read more. Read more.

Concerts by the Rondellus musical ensemble. The concerts, which introduce Early Renaissance court music, provide an idea of the music of the era in which Michel Sittow lived as a royal court painter. Read more.

Walk in the footsteps of Michel Sittow in Tallinn’s Old Town

In addition to visiting the exhibition at Kumu, we invite you to enjoy the summer by walking in the footsteps of Michel Sittow in Tallinn’s Old Town. Ask for a free information booklet for exploring the Old Town at the Kumu ticket counter, in the Niguliste Museum or at the Tallinn Tourist Information Centre!

Tallinn’s Old Town is the environment where Michel Sittow spent his childhood and a large part of his later years despite his frequent journeys around Europe. Even though the city has changed considerably in 500 years, the medieval streets of the Old Town and several significant places linked to the artist are still around.

We wish you a pleasant walk and many exciting discoveries!

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

More information:
Greta Koppel