Art lovers will have an unprecedented opportunity to view some of the greatest works in the history of Italian art when the Oklahoma City Museum of Art presents “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums.”
The remarkable exhibition opens its North American tour in Oklahoma City on Aug. 24 and closes Nov. 17. The paintings dramatically illustrate the great achievements in Italian art from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance and the 19th century.
“The Glasgow collection is one of the finest in Northern Europe,” said OKC Museum of Art President and CEO E. Michael Whittington in a news release. “The scope and quality of the Italian paintings is phenomenal and I am deeply honored that the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is able to present these masterworks to our community.”
Organized into five chronological sections, “Of Heaven and Earth” will include paintings originating from the principal artistic centers of Italy — Rome, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Naples, and Venice — and will present the masterworks of Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Bottticelli, Domenichino, Francesco Guardi, Salvator Rosa, and Titian, alongside those of lesser-known masters.
The exhibition begins with early religious works in the section titled “Tradition & Innovation in the Sacred Art” (1300s-1400s). Most of the paintings of this period were meant to convey Biblical narratives to a largely illiterate public, to inspire prayer, and to demonstrate the devotion of the paintings’ patrons. The earliest work shown here is Niccolo di Buonaccorso’s “St. Lawrence” (ca. 1370-75). Among the works in the section are Sandro Botticelli’s “Annunciation” (1490-95) — notable for the artist’s use of mathematical perspective — and the exquisite “Virgin and Child” (ca. 1480-85) by Giovanni Bellini, who played a major role in advancing the use of luminous oil paints.
Titian’s “Christ and the Adulteress” (ca. 1508-10) is the focal point of the section “The Splendor of the Renaissance” (1500s). This key work in Titian scholarship is one of his few early works that can be seen outside of Italy. As with many Renaissance paintings, this large masterpiece was cut down at some point. In 1971, the Glasgow Museums was able to purchase “Head of Man,” originally part of the upper right hand corner. “Of Heaven and Earth” will reunite the works for the first time in the United States. Following the High Renaissance style of Titian, the next generation of 16th-century Italian painters looked toward the more artificially stylized and elegance beauty of mannerism. Highlights include Cavalier d’Arpino’s “The Archangel Michael and the Rebel Angels” (ca. 1592-93).
“Divergent Paths of Baroque Art” (1600s) presents the two contrasting, predmoninant styles of the seventeenth century — the theatrical Baroque of Antiveduto Gramatica’s “Virgin and Child with St. Anne” (ca. 1614-17), and the classicism of Sassoferrato’s “Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the Infant St. John the Baptist” (ca. 1640s). This section also features masterworks of landscape painting by Domenichino and Salvator Roasa. Roasa’s sublime landscapes contrast with the meticulously constructed and serene composition of the ideal classical landscape rendered by Domenichino.
“The Rise of Idealism” (1700s) illustrates the emergence of landscape as a subject in itself, a development aided by an increase in travel during the period. While on the fashionable Grand Tour, British visitors in particular flocked to Italy to see ancient Roman ruins as well as Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces. There they sought out Italian landscape paintings such as Andrea Locatelli’s “Landscape with Fisherman” (ca. 1730) and Francesco Guardi’s “View of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice” (ca. 1760) as prestigious souvenirs from their travels.
The final section — “Romanticism, Revival, and Modernity” (1800s) — presents an eclectic array of Italian art during this era of national unification and modernization. Vincenzo Camuccini’s “The Death of Julius Caesar” and “Roman Women Offering their Jewelry in Defense of the State” (both ca. 1825-29) portray narratives from antiquity while also reflecting the politically volatile climate of Italy in the late 1820s. Camuccini, the leading painter in early 19th-century Italy, developed his style by studying the art of the Italian old masters, such as Domenichino, Titian, and other artists featured in the exhibition.
The remarkable regional and historical breadth of the exhibition will also showcase the outstanding quality of Glasgow Museums’ collection. The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and Glasgow Museums. The exhibition tour is generously supported by the JFM Foundation and the Donald and Maria Cox Charitable Fund. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. In-kind support is provided by Barbara and Richard S. Lane and Christie’s.
After leaving the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, “Of Heaven and Earth” will travel to the following museums:
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada: December 13, 2013-March 9, 2014
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY: April 17-July 13, 2014
Milwaukee Art Museum: October 1, 2014-January 4, 2015
Santa Barbara Museum of Art: February 6-May 3, 2015
For more information on the show’s OKC run, go to www.okcmoa.com.