The Macchiaioli exhibition at Palazzo Blu - EXTENDED UNTIL 19 MARCH 2023

Mostra I Macchiaioli a Palazzo Blu
Mostra I Macchiaioli a Palazzo Blu
Palazzo Blu
Start date: 
End date: 

The exhibition 'I MACCHIAIOLI' opened at the Palazzo Blu in Pisa on 8 October 2022, with scheduled closing on 26 February, and will be open to the public until Sunday 19 March 2023.


The exhibition "I MACCHIAIOLI" at Palazzo Blu in Pisa, from Oct. 8, 2022 to Feb. 26, 2023 - produced and organized by Fondazione Palazzo Blu and MondoMostre, with the contribution of Fondazione Pisa, and curated by Francesca Dini, an art historian and one of the most authoritative experts on this movement - traces the exciting evolution and at the same time revolution of the Macchiaioli, who gave birth to one of the most original avant-gardes in Europe in the second half of the 19th century.

The exhibition will be open from Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

It is in fact a retrospective of more than 130 works, mostly masterpieces from private collections, usually inaccessible, and from important museum institutions such as the Uffizi Galleries, the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, the Gallery of Modern Art in Genoa and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.

This important painting movement became popular, reaching a wider audience, more than fifty years ago thanks to the now historic exhibition at Forte Belvedere in Florence. Much has been said and portrayed about the art of the Macchiaioli, but without ever being able to fully restore the international visibility it deserves. This is mainly because the competition with French Impressionism, set as inescapable by critics since the time of Roberto Longhi, has so far prevented a complete and autonomous reading of the Macchiaioli story.

Today more than ever, having dropped nationalist views in favor of a Europeanist and international outlook, we are more inclined to dilute the Franco-centric conception of the history of 19th-century European painting and, without diminishing the universal scope of the Impressionist message, to highlight with greater objectivity the vital links of cultural dialogue among the peoples who contributed to the evolution of European civilization.

In this context, the vicissitudes of the Macchiaioli take on an even more interesting relevance, as does Tuscany, the land of choice for their artistic experience. These painters thus appear for what they actually were, namely the key to an open, purposeful, honest and daring dialogue with the most important artistic communities of Europe at the time.

The term "Macchiaioli" was coined in 1862 by a reviewer of the Gazzetta del Popolo, who thus defined those painters who around 1855 had given rise to an anti-academic renewal of Italian painting in the realist sense. The meaning was obviously derogatory and played on a particular double meaning: in fact, to give oneself to the bush means to act furtively, illegally.

This revolution, apparently highly original, had instead deep origins in the figurative art of the Peninsula. The same term "stain" had been used by Giorgio Vasari about Titian's mature works, which were "conducted with blows, pulled off roughly, and with stains of manner, which from near cannot be seen, and from afar appear perfect."

Starting from the elaboration of the principles of European realism formulated by Gustave Courbet and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and perfecting the expressive tool of the "stain" inferred from the example of the Venetian sixteenth-century painters, the Macchiaioli ventured on the path of light, painting their contemporary reality in the simplicity of the natural settings of which they had direct experience - in Venice, La Spezia, Castiglioncello, Piagentina, to name but a few symbolic places of the movement - in the poignancy of the ethical and moral values of a glorious epoch, the Risorgimento, which permeates the high formal tightness of their masterpieces.

The exposition

The exhibition at Palazzo Blu, divided into 11 sections, thus recounts the exciting adventure of a group of progressive young painters, Tuscan and otherwise, who - eager to distance themselves from the academic institution in which they were trained, under the influence of important masters of Romanticism such as Giuseppe Bezzuoli and Francesco Hayez - come in a short time to write one of the most poetic and daring pages in the history of art, not only Italian.

And it is precisely because of the universal values that underlie it that the art of the Macchiaioli is so relevant today, captivating with the formal and poetic fullness of extraordinary masterpieces-from Borrani's Sewing Women in Red Shirts to Lega's Il canto di uno stornello and Fattori's Battaglia di Magenta-indelibly etched in the collective memory. The intimate look at the reality contemporary to them, the anti-heroic and profoundly human vision that the Macchiaioli had of the Risorgimento have also enchanted the world of Cinema, from Luchino Visconti to Martin Scorsese. 

The exhibition at Palazzo Blu brings together the "key" works of this path with the aim of cadencing the different moments of the Macchiaioli's research, their confrontation with other artists and with the different European schools of painting; their bewilderments, their ability to collectively question themselves and to steer, if necessary, the rudder to continue on the road of progress and modernity without ever abandoning the highroad of light.  The visiting public will find at Palazzo Blu the answers to the most recurring questions: why were the Macchiaioli born in Tuscany? Can they consider themselves the painters of the Risorgimento? Why are they considered a European avant-garde?

The narrative begins, in the first section, from the Florentine Caffè Michelangelo, in which the Tuscans Telemaco Signorini, Odoardo Borrani, Raffaello Sernesi, Giovanni Fattori, Adriano Cecioni, and Cristiano Banti landed in 1855, Serafino De Tivoli, who were joined by Giuseppe Abbati from Naples, Vincenzo Cabianca and Federico Zandomeneghi from Veneto, Giovanni Boldini from Ferrara, Silvestro Lega from Romagna, Vito D'Ancona from Pesaro, and Nino Costa from Rome. Among their supporters were the poet Giosuè Carducci, the critic Diego Martelli, and the engineer and man of science Gustavo Uzielli. These artists who called themselves "progressives" challenged the academy of fine arts as a system and defended freedom of expression. That is why Caffè Michelangiolo immediately appears to them as the ideal place to grow and to break free from academic "pedantry." Their goal is to get to express their current feeling of young men animated by deep patriotic and artistic ideals through more modern and shared art forms. They want to deal with realities other than the Italian one and welcome those who, even if only passing through Tuscany, can bring some stimulus, among them Edgar Degas and Gustave Moreau, Marcellin Desboutin and the writer Georges Lafenestre, Auguste Gendron (Delaroche's pupil), the American Elihu Vedder. 

The exhibition continues through the changes of scenery (section 2), beginning with the 1855 Universal Exposition in Paris, which sanctioned the triumph of modern French landscape painting, and also changes the view of landscape by some painters, led by De Tivoli and Charles Markò Jr. "Landscape is the victory of modern art," say Edmond and Jules de Goncourt in their article on the Exposition. On his return from Paris De Tivoli began to devote himself to the study of the real, achieving admirable effects of naturalness and atmospheric airiness, as in La questua.

The gaze also changes to contemporary reality (section 3), and even figure painters like the Veronese Cabianca find themselves looking at contemporary society with new eyes, moving from the timid realism of interior scenes to a work like L'abbandonata, in which Cabianca boldly captures the emotional state of the protagonist with unusual determination. 

Also on display is the theme of the Second War of Independence (section 4), which provokes the Tuscan progressives' path to reflect on their particular relationship with the Risorgimento epic. Meanwhile, encouraged by the historical moment, Giovanni Fattori also "converted to the bush" who, in the Battle of Magenta, paints a great choral fresco in which the Italian victory decisive for the fate of the war-with the liberation of Milan-becomes a humanitarian event. 

The fifth section is devoted to Cabianca's painting The Morning, exceptionally in Pisa for the first time in 160 years, which was successfully exhibited at the Turin Promotrice in 1861. The exhibition continues with an account of the success the Macchiaioli had after the Turin exhibition, the years of affirmation of their art (section 6). At this time extraordinary masterpieces such as Reaping the Wheat in the Mountains of San Marcello by Borrani, Pastura in the Mountains and Tetti al sole by Sernesi, and Contadina nel bosco, by Fattori, were born. The group is now cohesive and strong thanks to a common project, which is to contribute to the birth of a national art, aligned with the most advanced manifestations of European painting. 

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