The Nativity at Night
attributed to Michel Sittow (Tallinn c.1468 – Tallinn 1525/6)
Oil painting on oak panel, The Nativity at Night, attributed to Michel Sittow (Tallinn c.1468 – Tallinn 1525/6). The Virgin kneels at the left of the Child who lies in a crib in the centre; opposite her, surrounding the cradle, are four angels praying, while three others hover above; in the background the ox and ass, and to the left Saint Joseph. Light streams from the Child, but the greater part of the composition is left in shadow.
Lying in a manger, the Christ Child is adored by the kneeling Virgin, four angels and a donkey. Two angels hover at the upper right. The painting has darkened to such a degree that the figure of Joseph is no longer visible at the far left although his presence is noted in earlier publications. The Nativity is depicted as a nocturne with the body of Christ as the sole source of illumination. The textual source for this image is to be found in the writings of the fourteenth-century mystic Saint Bridget of Sweden. In her vision of Christ’s birth, which takes place at midnight in Bethlehem, a divine radiance (splendour divinus) emanated from the new-born Christ, casting a warm glow upon the faces of Mary and the angles. This picture has been attributed to Michel Sittow since 1931. It is generally accepted that the composition reflects the legacy of two lost nocturnal Nativities by Hugo van der Goes. Similar paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienne, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Church of Saint Anne, Annaberg, have also been attributed to Sittow. These paintings are distinguished by the presence of Joseph who stands with his hand covering a candle. The candle’s meagre glow is overwhelmed by the light generated by Christ. Matthias Weniger and others consider none of these to be autograph works by Sittow, but Weniger praises the Upton House version for its fresh and lively colour. The composition was popular with any number of Netherlandish artists including for example Jan de Beer (and also in Germany in the work of the Lower Rhenish artist Jan Joes and his pupil Bartholomæus Bruyn the Elder. Text adapted from John Oliver Hand's catalogue entry for Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018, p. 102-4.
Spanish private collection; Leo Blumenreich (1884 – 1932), Berlin by May 1930 until at least 1931; Walter Andreas Hofer (1893 – ?1971), Munich/Berlin, June 1934; with the Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague; from which acquired by Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882 – 1948) by 10 November 1934 although included in the 1935 Bulletin of this gallery, where it was said to have come from a Spanish collection; given with Upton House to the National Trust by Lord Bearsted shortly before his death. Art Loss Register search 17.08.2017 confirmed no match
Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust)
Makers and roles
attributed to Michel Sittow (Tallinn c.1468 – Tallinn 1525/6), photographer Hugo Van der Goes (Ghent 1440 – Andergen 1482), artist previously catalogued as attributed to Michel Sittow (Tallinn c.1468 – Tallinn 1525/6), artist
Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe , National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA, 2018 Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe , Kumu Museum, Tallinn, Estonia, 2018
Winkler 1931 Friedrich Winkler, 'Master Michel', Art in America, XIX, 6, October 1912, pp.253, 257 Post 1930-66 Chandler Rathfon Post, A History of Spanish Painting, 14 vols., Cambridge, Mass, 1933, vol.IV, part I, p.37 Weniger 2011 Matthias Weniger, Sittow, Morros, Juan de Flandes, Drei Mahler aus dem Norden am Hof Isabellas de Katholischen, Ludwig, 2011, pp.119-20, no.32 John Oliver Hand and Greta Koppel, Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018., pp. 102-104, no, 19