Last night, I spent some quality time with Bellini, Titian and Botticelli at a Preview Celebration of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s new exhibit, Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums. It all started on a gray, chilled October afternoon. I entered the glass belly of Calatrava’s atrium and looked east through its wall of windows to take in the waves of Lake Michigan as they crashed into the rocks on the shore. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s autumn in Milwaukee. The ice, cold and darkness are coming and our tempestuous Great Lake was kindly reminding me of the inevitable. Thanks. While yes, for a few weeks, the falling leaves are showing off some Venetian colors of their own, soon, even those will be gone. I sighed and turned away from the stormy lake and, for a while, forgot about the cold and barren horizon and found myself in warm, sunny Tuscany.
Generously spaced throughout the main gallery of the art museum, Of Heaven and Earth allows the visitor to take a leisurely passeggiata through sixteenth and seventeenth century Florence, Rome, Siena and Venice. Bellini’s The Virgin and Child greets you right at the entrance. It is a small painting, but its harmony, innocence and simplicity captivate you. One of the most endearing paintings, by Titian, depicts a merciful and compassionate Christ meeting Mary Magdalene as she is escorted by a cadre of Pharisees just after she was discovered in flagrante delicto. It’s huge, and shows off the classic, fiery colors of the Venetian Renaissance. I learned that this is an earlier work of a young and ambitious twenty-year-old Titian. The figures are beautiful, but upon careful study, a little awkwardly depicted, showing that even a master like Titian required some time to refine his skills at this young age. Still, it’s a Titian and it’s in Milwaukee. See it.
Anyone who appreciates the rich artistic patrimony of the Church should make a point of visiting this outstanding exhibit. Rarely have these forty paintings ever left Scotland, and here they are in Milwaukee for a short period of time (until January 2). In fact, ours is the only city in the Midwest to serve as a stop for this priceless collection.