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From Neoclassicism to the “Ideology of Truth”

The 19th century in Italy is represented by a series of works illustrating how the passage from the 18th century – here exemplified by a work of the great sculptor Antonio Canova – led to an art form that sought to create a deep relationship with the reality of objects and of human experience. The first major effects of the new artistic language became apparent between the 1930s and 1950s.
“Realism” invaded every field of art in Europe. In Italy, the movement acquired specific characteristics that shaped figurative art from the mid-19th century onwards.
Central to this development was the fundamental, though not unique, experience of the Macchiaioli, a group of painters from Tuscany who adopted original solutions to the problem of achieving figurative representation that was not meticulously academic or minutely realistic. In brief, macchie (patches) were painted with bold, wide brushstrokes, building up essential shapes and allowing a freer, more direct and more emotionally responsive rendering.
The subjects that this language embraced were no longer the “official” ones – whether institutional or religious – but concrete, almost everyday themes: portraits; town scenes; soldiers in the Wars of Independence, caught not on parade but in hard, arduous or dramatic moments; interiors of ordinary homes; people at work. The themes and the methods of expression favoured by the Macchiaioli are exemplified by the work of the leading exponents of the movement, from Silvestro Lega to Giovanni Fattori and from Telemaco Signorini to Cristiano Banti.
Artists from other regions of Italy were also attracted by the “ideology of truth”, which they rendered differently from the manner of the Tuscan movement.  Among them were Luigi Bertelli, from Bologna, who took inspiration from mid-19th-century French Realism, and Ippolito Caffi, from Belluno, one of the first to use photographs as an aid to pictorial composition.
The tour also takes in a painting by the great French Impressionist Claude Monet, not because the Macchiaioli in Italy and the Impressionists in France adopted the same form of expression, but because both movements, on different levels, generally agreed, intellectually and psychologically, as to the manner of “capturing” physical reality.
The process carried forward by the Macchiaioli and the other interpreters of art founded on the “ideology of truth” was truly innovative and it opened up new horizons for modern art in Italy.

Antonio Del Guercio