The Macchiaioli Art and Artists

by jaktraks

Discover the wonderful world of the Italian Macchiaioli painters.

You are likely familiar with the work of French artists such as Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Degas, but are you aware of the paintings done by the Italian artists Banti, Lega, Abbati, or Fattori? Before the French Impressionists made a dreamy splash on their canvases, the Italian Macchiaioli painters were capturing captivating idyllic scenes of their country and its people.

Macchiaioli: Not a Pasta Dish

I was looking at some artwork the other day and realized I'd forgotten a lot of art history - probably because I had a class in art history about 100 years ago in college. I love looking at art, and if I brush up on my history I will sound quasi-erudite while walking through art galleries, which is not something I frequently do but, whatever.

So, I'm going to refresh my art memory by sharing information, starting with an art movement that is not as well known, as say, the impressionistic one. Those Impressionists get all the hype!

Even if you don't care about what painting goes with what art movement, Macchiaioli works are still interesting to look at. Unlike my old art history book that was fatter than a dictionary and used 8 pt type - I'm sticking with bite-sized bits of information about the art world you don't need reading glasses to see.

Portrait of Signora Martelli

by Giovanni Fattori
Portrait of Signora Martelli
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About the Portrait Above

Even a picture about pictures is worth a thousand words, so this tour starts with the Portrait of Signora Martelli. What to notice:

  • there is no sense of wealth or luxury
  • Ms Martelli sits comfortably in the shade, sunlight in the background
  • she is wearing a contented half smile
  • the setting is natural, except for her chair - I don't think that grew in the woods
  • despite the absence of luxury, Ms Martelli appears to want for nothing

These traits exemplify the Macchiaioli philosophy and style used by i Macchiaioli, who were a small band of painters in mid-19th century Tuscany.

Home of i Macchiaioli

Bit of Backgroud

Macchiaioli is pronounced:

The Macchiaioli, descendants of the Renaissance era and just ahead of the Impressionists, came together in the 1840s, over coffee. At that time there was a movement in Italy called the Risorgimento (perhaps related to the pimento). The Risorgimento was a push to unite the entire Italian peninsula under one government. Macchiaioli paintings were a reflection of this desire for unification.

Slowly, some states in the Italian peninsula ousted their foreign leaders and the Risorgimento became a sprout rather than just a seed idea. However, when Italy finally was unified, the idealism of the Risorgimento was not met.

One group of discontents, who hung out at Caffe Michelangilo in Florence, took their frustrations into the countryside, creating a painting style illustrating simple daily life and the Italian landscape.
The Macchiaioli created the united Italy they had hoped for through their art.

The Amazon

by Giuseppe De Nittis
The Amazon
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Trees at Riomggiore

by Telemaco Signorini
Trees at Riomggiore
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How Much Do You Know/Remember About Art History?

Why Are They Called i Macchiaioli?

DOT DOT DOT! Pictures, Images and Photos

The name of the Macchiaioli refers to "spots" of color. Historically, some painters did not draw their subject on a canvas first. (yikes) Instead, they lined up "spots" of color and contrast (light and shade) on the canvas.

Anyone remember dot-to-dot drawing books?
Now we're talking spot-to-spot.

Using a "macchia" (spot or stain) technique in combination with bold strokes, Macchiaioli artists attempted to capture their spontanious emotional reactions to their subjects. They often painted outside to study and capture subtle tones and shades of light.

Interesting sidenote: the word macchia can also refer to "outlaws" or "renegades."


Promenade in a Garden

by Sylvestro Lega
Promenade in a Garden

Macchiaioli Claim Fame 50 Years After the Last "Spot" Dried

Most of the Macchiaioli painters died penniless, unappreciated in their own time (the bane of artists throughout history). During the first half of the 20th century, they started to get recognition for their work, and The Macchiaioli found their rightful place in the Italian art timeline.

Still, Macchiaioli is not a household name, but it's their own fault. They should have gone with the Macchia, or Macoli, or macChia - something snappy that people aren't afraid to pronounce.

Places Where You Can See a Macchiaioli Painting

Art museum Naples


  • Civic Museum, Modigliana
  • Rhode Island School of Design, Providence
  • Brera Gallery, Milan
  • Museum of Science and Technology, Milan
  • Banca Toscana, Figline Valdarno
  • R. Carnielo Municipal Gallery, Florence
  • Civic Gallery of Modern Art, Turin
  • Gallery of Modern Art, Genoa-Nervi
  • Civic Gallery of Modern Art, Milan
  • Gallery of Modern Art, Ca' Pesaro, Venice
  • United States Embassy, Rome
  • Museo Medioevale e Moderno, Arezzo


by Christiano Banti
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11 Macchiaioli Painters

  1. Giovanni Fattori,
  2. Giuseppe Abbati (blind in one eye)
  3. Telemaco Signorini
  4. Giovanni Boldoni
  5. Cristiano Banti
  6. Odoardo Borrani
  7. Adriano Cecioni
  8. Raffaello Sernesi
  9. Vito D'Ancona
  10. Vicenzo Cabianca
  11. Silvestro Lega 

Are the Macchiaioli as noteworthy as the Impressionists?

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Yes, their paintings are just as beautiful and moving as the Impressionists
sheilamarie on 06/19/2011

I was not aware of this group of artists, but I love their use of light. If, as you say, they were "just ahead of the Impressionists," they must have influenced them, no? The spots of color are reminiscent of the Impressionists' use of color. What was the relationship between these two groups, and between this group and the pointillists?Now I'm heading to Wikipedia. See what you've started?

Updated: 10/17/2013, jaktraks
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Any cheers or boos for the Macchiaioli art movement?

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MikeRobbers on 05/28/2013

Informative article about a less known school of art. Great painting too!

sheilamarie on 06/19/2011

I love the paintings you've depicted here and am eager to learn more about this school of art. Thanks for introducing me to them!

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