Italian Impressionists

October 21, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Fauglia, Tuscany

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

Katharina Alles-Trauttmansdorff

by Katharina Alles-Trauttmansdorff

Founder of Trust and Travel (specialists in holiday rentals of historical Estates in Italy). At her blog, Come Inside the Villa, you can get more inside glimpses of the people, lifestyle, art, and culture of the estates she represents.

10 Responses to “Italian Impressionists”

  1. Linda Boccia

    We have been living near Firenze in Lucca for 6 months and i wish that I had known about this group of painters. As a silk fabric designer the Impressionist era is my favorite because they were so ahead of their time and were able to leave us with a rich tapestry of styles.

    Thank you and I will recommend it to others coming through Firenze.

  2. Linda Boccia

    Thank you for your information and I will pass this on to guests as it is a shame to miss such lovely and rich pre-impressionist work in the nearby Pitti Palace.

  3. carol dunn

    wonderful notation! i knew nothing about this group of painters, even tho i have studied art appreciation. i shall certainly pass this on, and should i be fortunate enough to get back to florence, shall certainly return to the Pitti. and hopefully seek out the villa………….one of the very best italian notebook readings!

  4. Jill Ackerman

    I am so glad to have today’s Italian note on the Macchiaioli as in my
    former Art History courses and teachings they were surely overlooked, while much of the focus went toward the French Impressionists. I learned of the Macchiaioli tranne un’amica che abita a Campiglia Marittima.

  5. Linda Gasbarro

    No matter how long it takes, it’s always nice when someone who has done something so important and impactful to our history – to the history of the world – is recognized. I’ve never heard of the Macchiaioli and am happy to now know of their contribution to the great impressionists – and what a beautuful name. Thank you for sharing, and bringing attention to this overlooked family.

  6. Lee Sorenson

    Great article, very interesting. Thanks for reminding and/or informing us about these great painters who led the way for the French Impressionists.

  7. Rosemary

    Fascinating! I’ve never heard of them either and wish I had. I’ll have to look for more information about this interesting group of artists!


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