Tucked inside the Pitti Palace is one of Florence’s lesser-known museums, and even more obscure chapter in art history. Inside the “modern” art gallery you’ll find paintings representing the movement known as the Macchiaioli. Often touted as the Italian cousin of the more famous French Impressionism, the Macchiaioli actually predates the Impressionists by nearly a decade.
The name derives from “macchia” or spot, a reference to the large spots or patches used to express shapes, light and color. The most important Macchiaioli were a pair of brothers, Francesco and Luigi Gioli, who hailed from Pisa. The Gioli along with artists such as Silvestra Lega, Giovanni Fattori, and Telemaco Signorini, broke with academic tradition, and did much of their painting outdoors to better capture the true qualities of light, shade and color.
The Gioli brothers’ villa in Fauglia was an idyllic spot and served as a retreat for this dynamic group of rebellious artists. The villa was constructed around 1700 as a hunting lodge; a side tower was added in the mid-1800s, which later served as the Gioli brothers’ studio. Patterns of brilliant country light filtering through the large windows in the tower surely provided them with inspiration for their work.
Francesco’s wife Mathilde, a writer and painter in her own right, was the quintessential hostess, and luminaries from the literary and art world were drawn to Villa Gioli for the seclusion, beauty, and intellectual atmosphere.
One painting in the modern art museum’s collection is a lovely portrait of a young girl with her doll, Franca Bartolommei Gioli, the granddaughter of Francesco and Matilde. This young girl is the mother of the villa’s current owners, whose lives have been rooted in the villa’s history.
Sadly, the Macchiaioli are often overshadowed by their French Impressionist counterparts, and the vast majority received little or no recognition in their lifetimes. The next time you’re at a museum, be sure to seek out the section devoted to this group of extraordinary men, whose new and revolutionary ideas paved the way for some of today’s best-known artists. Or, visit Villa Gioli to enjoy the area’s natural surroundings and picture yourself inside an impressionistic painting.
– Villa Gioli, Via Pugnano, 8, Fauglia Pisa, Italy