The City of Glasgow possesses one of the finest civic collections of Italian paintings. Exquisite early canvases by Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, and Titian highlight their holdings. The museums are also endowed with masterpieces by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painters such as Francesco Guardi and Antonio Mancini. Accordingly, their collection reflects the true breadth of the Italian influence in the visual arts. However, these collections, although extensive and significant, have been on view only partially in Glasgow, and rarely outside of Scotland. The paintings were made available for this international tour just recently, after a campaign of extensive research and conservation led by renowned art historian Peter Humfrey.
About one-half of the paintings featured in Of Heaven and Earth—and about the same proportion of those in the collection as a whole—belonged to the Glasgow coachbuilder and magistrate Archibald McLellan (1797–1854). McLellan formed his collection in the 1830s and 1840s with the specific purpose of creating a civic museum worthy of the booming mercantile city. He once stated that he wanted his paintings to be “illustrative of the characteristics and progress of the various schools of painting in Italy …since the revival of art in the fifteenth century,” and to “form the foundation for a more extensive and complete collection.” Subsequent bequests, especially during the later nineteenth century, have further enriched and extended the chronological scope of the nucleus provided by McLellan.