SITTOW, Michel
(b. ca. 1468, Reval, d. 1525, Reval)

Portrait of a Man

c. 1510
Oil on oak panel, 36 x 26 cm
Mauritshuis, The Hague

Michel Sittow was an artist from Reval (Tallinn) who did enjoy his own career and who probably learned his trade from Memling, though he never registered as his pupil. We know from the records of a legal case he brought in Lübeck against his stepfather that he came to Bruges in 1484 to learn the trade of painter, and that his apprenticeship had not ended by 1486. By 1492 he had become court painter to Isabella the Catholic. What few works of his survive owe a compositional and technical debt to Memling. It is possible that Sittow helped Memling carry out the enormous number of commissions he received in the second half of the 1480s. However, very few works of this period can be dated with precision.

This bust portrait shows the sitter in three-quarter view to the right against a plain dark green-blue background. Through the slits of a brown tabard can be seen the scarlet sleeves of his jacket, over which are wide dark blue-black revers. Sticking out of this is a short straight black collar which is open above a white shirt. On his head is a dark beret. Previously taken to be a Gossaert, it is now generally attributed to Michel Sittow, which is confirmed by the portrait's Baltic origin.

The Mauritshuis portrait is one of those early-sixteenth-century portraits which are very close to Memling. Not only are the general framing of the figure and the green-blue background clearly related; the position of the hands pushed towards the corner of the frame is even identical. Moreover, the type and graphic modelling of the fingers belong to Memling's formal vocabulary.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.