Who forged the Impressionist’s road? Well the Italians, of course. For those who might remember way back in some art history courses, the Macchiaioli. They were a group of rebellious Italian painters working and living in and around Florence in the mid 1800s (officially they were from 1850-1874). Who were these artists with this very untranslatable nickname? “Macchia” Italian for spot or blotch and “Tachistes,” French for stain or blot was published in 1862 in a newspaper labeling this group of artists, which at that point, they happily adopted. This happens to be one of the most poetic movements of that period similar to the visual experiments of the Impressionist artists. This period heavily influenced Italian film directors such as, Luchino Visconti and Mauro Bolognini finding an iconographic inspiration and a language to the image.
These painters detached themselves from the neoclassical and romantic styles of their times breathing fresh air and new life into Italian painting. They focused their emphasis on color, light and nature and revived Italy’s pictorial culture. They are deemed the initiators of modern Italian painting. This movement is not well known outside of Italy yet it was crucial for Italian painting and, as believed, the precursor to the Impressionists.
Towards the end of the 1850s this group of young painters hostile towards academia, often found themselves in the locals of Florence and in particular, the Caffé Michelangelo where they discussed amongst themselves updating ideas of what to do about painting. Together they had the great fortune to see the huge collection of paintings of the Russian prince Demidoff in his villa in Florence. The collection was rich with French artists such as, Ingres, Corot e Delacroix.
This group consisted of Telemaco Signorini and Serafino De Tivoli and shortly after, Cristiano Banti and Vincenzo Cabianca. They were the first to be presented at the Promotrice of Turin with a completely new language. They were named “macchiaioli” for the exaggerated emphasis on chiaroscuro using layers of “blots” of color. While carrying out their works, they forgot the notion of design preceding the chromatic element, which favored their technique of aligning the blotches of color and of light and shade.
The optical effect was a kind of flickering overflowing with light. They dedicated themselves more and more to painting what was real and to study light in all its vibrations and nuances and thus, the determining condition was to paint outside. Inside the studio it was impossible to capture the intonations of light necessary for the proper rendering of the works.
Others who became a part of the original four were, Vito D’Ancona, Raffaello Sernesi, Giuseppe Abbati and Odoardo Borrani who spent a very fertile period painting at S. Marcello Pistoiese as well as, Giovanni Fattori the most secluded of the group but clearly the greatest and most well known. Art critic, friend and greatest fan of the group, Diego Martelli had the opportunity to play host to these rebels at his ranch in Castiglioncello during the years spanning 1861-1867.
It was here that the period defined as the “School of Castiglioncello” took shape, due to the number or works produced during the invigorating sojourns allowing these artists complete immersion in that splendid scenery on the Martelli property.
Concurrently in Florence the other great Macchiaioli personality was maturing where Silvestro Lega, who left us magnificent vivid and colorful works from that period when he worked in a neighborhood just outside Florence called, Piagentina at the end of 1860.
Following, during the early 70’s, Giovanni Boldoni and Giuseppe De Nittis took part in the group and established themselves in Paris. It is interesting to think that exactly in those years, to be precise, 1874, in the Paris studio of photographer Nadar, there was an exhibit for the first time of the impressionists.
Completing the nucleus of the Macchiaioli was, Adriano Cecioni, Nino Costa and Antonio Puccinelli. Although young, Eugenio Cecconi, Niccolò Cannicci and Egisto Ferroni participated although late to this movement.