The Milwaukee Art Museum’s current special exhibit, Of Heaven and Earth: 500 years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums, opened October 2 and closes January 4.
The works of art came from the collection of Glasgow Museums, which is comprised of 150 paintings, 40 of which make up the exhibit. The pieces were all painted in Italy between 1370 and 1870. Museum patrons were able to see the change in style across generations of Italian paintings encompassed by a variety of religious, landscape and mythological paintings, among others.
The exhibit began with paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries, just before the Italian Renaissance. Each painting was given an entire wall, each of which was painted in dark reds, browns and golds to compliment and enunciate the colors within the paintings. These early paintings were done on wood with egg tempera, and show the beginnings of geometric perspective, background landscape and variation in light and shadow in Italian painting.
Each painting was very small in scale, many of them being fragments of altarpieces and portraits of saints. “The Annunciation,” a painting by one of the most well known painters of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli (painter of “Birth of Venus”), was the second piece in the exhibit. It depicted the Angel Gabriel bearing a lily and the light of God to Mary.
The next room contained a video, detailing the meticulous restorations needed to maintain the paintings in the exhibit.
The third room exhibited works from the 16th century. Paintings by Titian and Paris Bordon, two of the most renowned painters of the Italian Renaissance, were on display in this room. At this point in the exhibit, the colors in the paintings became richer and more varied, including royal blues and other colors not seen in the earlier paintings.
This color-change was enunciated by the colors of the walls, which changed to bring out the new color scheme of the new century. Oil and canvas were the new medium. Two paintings by Titian were placed foremost in this room: one full painting, “Christ and Adulterer,” and a smaller piece, “Head of Man,” which is believed to be a fragment cut from “Christ and Adulterer.” These two pieces were displayed side-by-side, so patrons could see how the two would have fit together.
This section also contained the piece, “Archangel Michael and the Rebel Angels,” by Cavaliere d’Arpino, another well-known painting from this time.
The first painting in the fourth room, the 17th century, was much larger than its predecessors, and was the first in the exhibit without a specific biblical story or person as the central theme. “Vanitas” was painted by an unknown artist, and shows the main figure of the painting: a woman, kneeling on the floor surrounded by gold and jewelry. The painting is meant to symbolize the woman’s renouncement of her worldly possessions.
This room also contained two landscapes by Salvator Rosa, in which the landscape dominates the figures, rather than the figures dominating the landscape as it was in the earlier rooms.
The painting, “Salome,” by Carlo Dolci was the most shocking painting in the exhibit, depicting its subject, Salome, holding the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
The 18th century could be found in the fifth room. The colors of the walls changed to reflect the lighter pastels of the late Baroque period.
Antonio Balestra’s piece, “Justice and Peace Embracing” differed from the other paintings in the exhibit due to the political connotations of the painting, which depicted two women, representing justice and peace, and their mutual affection for one another.
This room was very different from the others because it was characterized by mythology and pastel colors, rather than religion and dark red and gold hues.
The colors of the walls helped to lead the viewer through the centuries, from red, to pink, to light blue. The 19th century room returned the viewer to the reds and browns that have been experienced earlier in the exhibit.
This room contained an eclectic mix of portraits of ordinary people (a violin teacher, an artist, a sulky boy) and historical paintings depicting momentous events in history, such as the death of Julius Caesar.
Though the subjects and style changed quite a bit from the paintings found in the beginning of the exhibit, the similarity in color helps to bring the exhibit full-circle, providing a wonderful feeling of closure to an exhibit spanning 500 years.
by Annalise Lozier