Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child, ca. 1480–85. Tempera and oil on panel, 24 1/2 x 18 1/4 in. (62.3 x 46.2 cm). Glasgow Museums; Bequeathed by Mrs. John Graham-Gilbert, 1877 (575). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.
SANTA BARBARA, CA.– This beautiful and important exhibition explores the evolution of Italian art and reflects the outstanding quality and remarkable 500-year range—from the late 14th to the 19th centuries—of the Glasgow Museums’ Italian holdings. Included are works by some of the greatest masters of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, such as Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Domenichino, Francesco Guardi, Salvator Rosa, Luca Signorelli, and Titian, many of which have never before been exhibited outside Glasgow. Several have been newly restored for the exhibition, among them, the southern Italian Adoration of the Magi by the unknown artist known as the Master of the Glasgow Adoration. This stunning early Renaissance masterpiece believed to have been part of a larger altarpiece was almost black with atmospheric pollution before conservation.
The character of Glasgow’s Italian collection was largely determined by the tastes of Archibald McLellan (1797–1854), a discriminating collector who spent much of his wealth on art and bequeathed his extensive collection to the city. McLellan acquired representative examples of all the main schools of Italy and in all the main periods of development. Most are religious or mythological in subject and were acquired in the spirit of an academic and moral ideal rather than for any personal reasons.
The exhibition of more than 40 works begins with early religious works in the section titled Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: Tradition and Discovery. Most of the paintings from this period were meant to convey biblical narratives to a largely illiterate public, to inspire prayer, to demonstrate the devotion of the paintings’ patrons, and, often, to commemorate an important occasion, such as a birth. Among the works in this section are Sandro Botticelli’s innovative The Annunciation (1490–95)—particularly notable for the artist’s use of mathematical perspective, which gives an impression of three-dimensional depth—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 over the more common egg-based tempera medium.
Sandro Botticelli (and Possibly Assistant), The Annunciation, ca. 1490–95. Oil, tempera, and gold leaf on walnut panel. 19 1/2 x 24 7/16 in. (49.5 x 61.9 cm). Glasgow Museums; Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (174). ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.
One of the most significant Renaissance works in Glasgow and a centerpiece of the section The Sixteenth Century: Towards a New Beauty is Titian’s Christ and the Adulteress (ca. 1508–10), a rare example of the artist’s early paintings in a collection outside Italy and a key work in Titian’s oeuvre. As with many Renaissance paintings, this large masterpiece was cut down at some point. In 1971, Glasgow Museums was able to purchase Head of a Man, originally part of the upper right-hand corner. This exhibition will reunite the two works for the first time in the United States.
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Christ and the Adulteress, ca. 1508–10. Oil on canvas. 54 13/16 x 71 1/2 in. (139.2 x 181.7 cm). Glasgow Museums; Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (181). ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.
The section The Seventeenth Century: Rhetoric and Realism presents the two contrasting, predominant styles of the 17th century, as represented in the theatrical Baroque style 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 masterpieces by two pioneers of their respective landscape styles. Landscape with St. Jerome (ca. 1610) by Domenichino, a forbearer of the Picturesque, exemplifies the meticulously constructed and serene composition of the ideal classical landscape. Salvator Rosa, on the other hand, was a passionate individualist who would influence the work of J.M.W. Turner and 19th-century Romantic painters, with his vision of an untamed and turbulent world of nature.
Domenichino, Landscape with St. Jerome, ca. 1610. Oil on panel, 17 5/16 x 23 1/2 in. (44 x 59.6 cm). Glasgow Museums; Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (139). © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.
The Eighteenth Century: Age of Elegance 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 and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces. There they sought out Italian landscape paintings such as Andrea Locatelli’s Landscape with Fishermen (ca. 1730) and Francesco Guardi’s View of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice (ca. 1760) as prestigious souvenirs.
Antonio Balestra, Justice and Peace Embracing, ca. 1700. Oil on canvas, 42 x 55 1/4 in. (106.8 x 140.3 cm). Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (266)© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.
The final section, The Nineteenth Century: Patriotism and Genre, presents an eclectic array of Italian art during this era of national unification and modernization. The section opens with two works by Vincenzo Camuccini: The Death of Julius Caesar and Roman Women Offering Their Jewelry in Defense of the State (both ca. 1825–29). Each portrays a narrative 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 Italian old masters, including the works of Domenichino, Titian, and other artists featured earlier in the exhibition.
Prior to the opening at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), the exhibition (originally named Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums) was on view in Great Britain in an expanded version including decorative arts at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (April–August 2012) and Compton Verney in Warwickshire (March–June 2013). The North American tour began at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (August 22–November 17, 2013) before traveling to the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada (December 13, 2013–March 9, 2014), Allentown Art Museum (June 8 – September 7, 2014), and Milwaukee Art Museum (October 1, 2014–January 4, 2015).