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Those Guys at the Cafè: the Macchiaioli

Today, we are going to introduce you this small reality operating in the century of Romanticism, Realism and Impressionism.

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Exhibitions in Rome are known to be mostly about Impressionists and Macchiaioli. If the former group is loved worldwide, not many know this nineteenth century Italian artistic movement.

Today, we are going to introduce you this piece of history operating in the century of Romanticism, Realism and Impressionism.

In 1862, a critic from the magazine La Gazzetta del Popolo defined a group of artists, founded in 1855, as “Macchiaioli” (literally “Spot-men”) for their peculiar approach to painting. Accordingly, their artworks were characterized by different spots of color juxtaposed to form a figure. The perfect example of this style is a painting by Giovanni Fattori, titled La Rotonda dei Bagni Palmieri (1866). A group of women is relaxing on a rotunda during a summer day. Their features are not defined, but just reduced to different patches for hair, faces, and dresses.

The Macchiaioli were born in a historically bizarre context. While Paris became the center of arts, and the Italian Peninsula was constantly pressured by wars for the unification of Italy, a dozen artists were happily seated at a café in Florence, called Café Michelangelo, discussing painting and styles. The most prominent figures in this bunch undoubtedly were Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Fattori, Telemaco Signorini, Odoardo Borrani, and Diego Martelli. With the exception of Martelli, who was a collector rather than an artist, all these men were painters from Tuscany. In brief, they were quite a small, local group. Nevertheless, many of the Macchiaioli became rather famous and their works were collected throughout Italy.

 

Odoardo Borrani, Sewing red shirts for the volunteers, 1863, o/c, Bricherasio palace, Turin. Courtesy of the museum. Above: Giovanni Fattori, La rotonda dei bagni palmieri, 1866, o/c, Museum of modern art, Florence. Courtesy of the museum.

Odoardo Borrani, Sewing red shirts for the volunteers, 1863, o/c, Bricherasio palace, Turin. Courtesy of the museum. Above: Giovanni Fattori, La rotonda dei bagni palmieri, 1866, o/c, Museum of modern art, Florence. Courtesy of the museum.

 

Despite different styles and phases, the Macchiaioli could generally be defined as realist painters for their topics. Most of them were committed to everyday life and activities, especially in homes and the countryside. In some cases, like in Fattori’s paintings as well as in Lega’s, the themes focused on historical figures and on battles linked to Italy’s struggle for unity. For instance, Silvestro Lega portrayed the Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1861 (the year of Italian independence). So, it’s possible to say that those nice men sitting at the café were not as politically and socially involved as Delacroix or Manet, yet they were surely aware of Italian life and the change happening around them.

 

Silvestro Lega, Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1861, o/c, Museo Civico Don Giovanni Verità, Modigliana, Forlì-Cesena. Courtesy of the museum.

Silvestro Lega, Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1861, o/c, Museo Civico Don Giovanni Verità, Modigliana, Forlì-Cesena. Courtesy of the museum.

 

The group of the Macchiaioli is particularly appreciated in Italy as it was one of the first attempts of modernity in art, contrasting the more classical approach, although remaining a local experience.

 

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