Freedom in a gentle way
"La Rotonda di Palmieri" was painted in 1866 by Giovanni Fattori of Livorno. He is considered one of the most significant members of the Macchiaioli, an art movement that originated in Italy. It shortly preceded in time and thought the Impressionists of france.
Although in both countries the artists banded together to paint in the open air and made similar researches into effects of color and light, basically their aims were quite different. The French inclined toward dissolving form into an over-all luminosity, while the Italians favored substantial figures rather sharply defined with planes clearly indicated. There was little contact between the two.
The Caffee Michelangelo in Florence is credited with being the birthplace of the Macchiaioli. About the middle of last century it became a famous forum for fiery intellectual debate involving artists, writers, and politicians from all over Italy. Being predominantly young and ardent, these men took part in the wars in which the country acquired freedom and unity. Afterwards, returning to the Caffee they steered polemics in order to center on art and its new tendencies.
Existing academies were categorically rejected and a deliberate search undertaken for a fresh manner of seeing. Paintings by Filippo Lippi, Ghirlandaio, Carpaccio, and others of the Italian Quattrocento, were studied thoughtfully. In groups they visited the only foreign art available, Russian Prince Demidoff's collection at his villa in the outskirts of Florence. He had excellent examples of French realism, works by Ingres, Delacroix, Courbet, and Corot, and the Barbizon School.
Discerning investigations and animated arguments led these men to Modern Art. Pomp and ceremony, mythology, impossible romantic yearnings, were relegated to the past. The new concept revolved around Man and Humanity. Painting must be of the real, taken in the open air, absolutely directly. Brightness and shadow should be emphasized naturally in accordance with the light of day.
A method was decided on: the artist painted rapidly a spot (in Italian a "macchia,"m hence the name Macchiaioli) to capture the strongly individualized image as first perceived. Whether he completed the picture on the place or not, the essectial was to retain intact this primary shock.
The Macchiaioli had a predilection for modest, everyday things and small formats. Our painting, measuring only 4.68 inches by 13.68 inches, is of a group of women, separate but together, in the rotunda of a long-renowned bathing establishment, the Palmieri at Livorno, projecting farther than all others into the sea. Obviously, ladies of 1866 liked to take the sun but only when amply clothed and in the shade.
The little panel is so appealingly important that it attracts the attention of everyone interested in Fattori or the Macchiaioli. featured in more than 14 recent expositions, including those in London, Paris, Lugano, New York, Karlsruhe, and Munich, it has been discussed by over a hundred art critics and writers.
A whole notebook of suggestions and motifs found "La Rotonda" shows that Fattori spent a long summer meditating on the picture. All the while he maintained the spontaneity of his initial impression: against the brilliance of the sea and sky, the figures in the subdued misty light, under the canvas awning , have the appearance of hazy geometric color-patches embraced in a vibrant spacious design.
His rendition of the real is as simple and direct as one can imagine, yet the pervading calm and stability have a slight suggestion of a subtle poetic suspense.
Many of the Macchiaioli were exceptionally gifted as artists, but Giovanni Fattori possessed more of the rare ability to confer on mere trifles the dazzling meaning of existence. He had twinkling eyes and the nature of a perennial boy; in all tuscany no one is more loved.