The phrase “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” gets thrown around quite a bit, but it's not every day that Sooner State denizens have the chance to see Italian Renaissance masterpieces right in downtown Oklahoma City.
“The chance to see works by Bellini and Botticelli and Titian on view at the museum is a really rare opportunity. To see works of this caliber and by artists of this renown on view in Oklahoma City, we've not shown them before and we're excited to be doing that,” said Oklahoma City Museum of Art Curator Alison Amick.
“Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting From Glasgow Museums” opens Saturday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the first stop on a five-city North American tour. A preview and Roof Terrace party celebrating the prestigious exhibit's opening is set for 6 to 10:30 p.m. Friday.
The sprawling show features about 40 Italian paintings from the late Middle Ages through the famed Renaissance and into the 19th century, Amick said, and the vast majority of the works have never been shown in the United States before.
While Scotland might not seem the most obvious place to find Italian masterworks, the Glasgow collection is considered one of the finest in Northern Europe.
“There were a lot of people, particularly in the 19th century, collecting Italian art, so it was really part of the taste of the time, particularly among the elite and wealthy in Glasgow,” Amick said. “It's a really amazing, world-renowned grouping of Italian paintings. And they're sending really key works from the collection.”
For instance, Titian's “Christ and the Adulteress,” which dates to around 1508, is considered one of the Scottish collection's finest and most popular Italian paintings. The exhibit also features paintings by the likes of Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Domenichino, Francesco Guardi and Salvator Rosa.
“If you're interested in history, religion, mythology, I think there will be something about it that will draw you in,” Amick said.
Five centuries of art
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. Each of the five galleries will cover a 100-year period of Italy's rich art history.
“Five hundred years is pretty daunting, but the exhibition really breaks it down in a nice way, a very manageable way, where you sort of explore each century and different themes that emerged in Italian art during that respective period,” she said.
“Of Heaven and Earth” will showcase the elegance of the Renaissance, the drama of the Baroque Period, the classicism of Italian landscapes and more.
“The artwork is fairly diverse. There's a lot of religious imagery ... and then as you move forward and sources of patronage and trends in Italian painting changed, you see mythological subjects. You see literary subjects,” Amick said.
“As you move on into the 19th century, there's a much bigger shift. As the art market changed, (there's) the rise of genre of painting, scenes from everyday life, new sources of patronage ... as compared to the earlier portion when the exhibition started, thinking about the church as a major source of patronage.”
The exhibit will include a timeline displayed around the halfway point.
“It's a timeline of 500 years of arts and culture. It places some of the works in the exhibition in context of what was happening in the larger world in terms of key political events, other important paintings like the ‘Mona Lisa' ... and that helps give another way to view the span,” Amick said.
For the first time, the museum is providing a community-sourced cellphone audio guide that will feature Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; and Oklahoma City Philharmonic music director Joel Levine, among others.
“We've invited different individuals in the community to view a work from the exhibition and to create a response to it, which will offer a different perspective than an academic or art historical approach. It's more of a personalized response, kind of what they see in the artwork,” Amick said. “I think that will be fun for people.”
Communications manager Ralph Cornelius said the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is the exhibit's only stop in the Southwest. The five-city tour also includes the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, N.Y.; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; and Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California.
“It is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these major works of Italian art from an important collection,” Amick said. “It's not something that you would easily be able to see in the region, so it's very exciting to bring this work to Oklahoma City.”