Michael Sittow: Tallinn’s Finest Talent

Estonia might not be famous for its Renaissance artists, but Michael Sittow of Tallinn was one of the great masters of his time. He trained in Bruges under Memling and gained one of the highest-paid contracts of the time from the court of Isabella of Castile. He travelled around Europe, including England, but ultimately returned to his native land where he died in 1525, aged 56.

His portraits are so life-like that one could believe that the fur-trimmed gowns or diaphanous veils are genuine,  but his real skill was in the painting of faces and hands, rendering complexions and wrinkles in such a way that you can see the subjects’ characters shining through. Happily he was also involved in painting scenes for the Retable of Isabella, along with Juan de Flandes, so we are able to see him turning his hand to narrative art as well.

Highly accomplished, we know he was a sculptor as well as an artist but, sadly, none of his carvings survive. It only takes a glance at a couple of his works to make one wonder how it can be that he is not more famous: Tallinn’s finest talent.