A remarkable exhibition, “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums,” is now open at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Museum director Kathleen Bartels says that “it is clearly the flagship exhibition for our upcoming summer season, and we could not be more thrilled to have these masterpieces here.” That is no overstatement, at all. Many of these paintings were in a private collection, owned by Glaswegian businessman Archibald McLellan, who bequeathed his assemblage to the City of Glasgow in the mid-19th century. The artists whose work is on display for this exhibition include Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, the Cavaliere d’Arpino (Giuseppe Cesari), Francesco Guardi, Domenichino, and Salvator Rosa.
The exhibition basically traces the Golden Age of Italian painting from the late 14th century to the late 19th century. It is thus divided into five main sections, one for each century. The works were produced in the principal artistic centres of Italy, such as Rome, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Naples, and Venice. Subject matter includes a wide array of Biblical figures, plus patrons of the arts, royalty, and other prominent persons of the day. One of the key charms of the exhibition is being able to tangibly trace not just the evolution of technique in Italian art, but how influences are exerted, and how artists are always aware of what went before them.
Ian Thom, senior curator, historical, took some time in advance of the opening to explain the intricacies of these great artworks, and noted that “these are some of the most influential artists of their time. You can discern from some of these works, for example, where Raphael and Michelangelo got some of their ideas.” He adds that “this exhibition is also an important testimony to the importance of philanthropy, and donations to public museums from private collectors.” Even a casual observer will find plenty to be excited about, entranced by, seeing up close and in person how great art stands above time.
“Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Art from Glasgow Museums” runs from June 12 to October 4, 2015.