From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Macchiaioli (pronounced mah-key-ay-OH-li) were a group of Tuscan painters active in the second half of the nineteenth century who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, painted outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli were forerunners of the Impressionists who, beginning in the 1860s, would pursue similar aims in France. The most notable artists of this movement were Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega and Telemaco Signorini.
The movement grew from a small group of artists, many of whom had been revolutionaries in the uprisings of 1848. The artists met at the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence throughout the 1850s to discuss art and politics. These idealistic young men, dissatisfied with the art of the academies, shared a wish to reinvigorate Italian art by emulating the bold tonal structure they admired in such old masters as Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Tintoretto. They also found inspiration in the paintings of their French contemporaries of the Barbizon school.
They believed that areas of light and shadow, or "macchie" (literally patches or spots) were the chief components of a work of art. The word macchia was commonly used by Italian artists and critics in the nineteenth century to describe the sparkling quality of a drawing or painting, whether due to a sketchy and spontaneous execution or to the harmonious breadth of its overall effect.
A hostile review published on November 3, 1862 in the journal Gazzetta del Popolo marks the first appearance in print of the term Macchiaioli. The term carried several connotations: it mockingly implied that the artists' finished works were no more than sketches, and recalled the phrase "darsi alla macchia", meaning, idiomatically, to hide in the bushes or scrubland. The artists did, in fact, paint much of their work in these wild areas. This sense of the name also identified the artists with outlaws, reflecting the traditionalists' view that new school of artists was working outside the rules of art, according to the strict laws defining artistic expression at the time.
In its early years the new movement was ridiculed. Many of its artists died in penury, only achieving fame towards the end of the 19th century.
Today the work of the Macchiaioli is much better known in Italy than elsewhere; much of the work is held, outside the public record, in private collections there.
Some of the most important artists of the Macchiaioli are:
- Giuseppe Abbati
- Odoardo Borrani
- Vincenzo Cabianca
- Vito D'Ancona
- Giovanni Fattori
- Silvestro Lega
- Telemaco Signorini