12 August 2016

I Macchiaioli: A Picture and a History

"I have so much faith in you.
I could wait for your voice
silently through centuries of darkness.

Like the sun
you know all the secrets.

You could make geraniums
and wild orange trees bloom
deep in marble quarries
and legendary prisons.

I have so much faith in you.  I'm calm
a an Arab wrapped in white barracan
listening to God
making the barley grow around the house."

 -  "To Trust" by Antonia Pozzi, translated from the Italian by Lynne Lawner, from The Farrar Straus Giroux Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, New York: 2012.

I don't know the identity of the young woman in red in Federigo Zandomeneghi's Young Girl With a Bouquet of Flowers but everyone who knows Leonardo da Vinci's work will be reminded of his  Ginevra de' Benci. 

The name of Federigo Zandomeneghi is unfamiliar outside his native Italy where most of his paintings are held;  he belonged to I Macchiaioli along with Telemaco Signorini.   To be born in Venice sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale  but Venice in 1841 was subject to the rule of the  Austrian Empire and its male citizens  to the draft by a distant army.  It was to escape conscription that Federigo Zandomeneghi  moved to Pavia in the Lombard Kingdom but, in  his absence, he was convicted of desertion.  Unable to return home, Zandomeneghi moved  to Florence, where he met a group of like-minded artists, I Macchiaioli.   In 1874, he planned a short visit to Paris; seeing the first public exhibition of the Impressionists,  he decided to stay on.  In spite of support from the influential dealer Durand-Ruel, Zandoemeneghi had to earn a living as a fashion illustrator.   He achieved success in the 1890s with his distinctive portraits of young women, a genre at which Italians had excelled for centuries and, thus, a satisfying continuation of the tradition.

It was during the Renaissance that Italian artists began to paint living, identifiable women rather than depictions of characters from mythology or religion.   Jacob Burkhardt, in Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), saw them as early  expressions of developing individualism: "the educated woman, no less than the man, strove naturally after a characteristic and complete individuality."   Burkhardt's enthusiasm led him to overreach, claiming these paintings as evidence of female equality with men, an odd claim to make for an era when women were excluded from the public realm.  It took only 117 years for art historian Joan Kelly-Gadol to correct his misrepresentation in a famous essay "Did Women have a Renaissance?"

Antonia Pozzi (1912-1938) lived her entire life in the northern Italian city of Milan.  Her mother was a countess and her father an attorney.   Pozzi studied at the University of Milan where she became friends with other poets, including  Dacia Menicanti and Vittorio Sereni.   Pozzi loved hiking  and was known as a talented photographer.  In despair at the passing of the Fascist racial laws in 1938, Pozzi committed suicide; she was twenty-six.  She left behind an unfinished thesis on Gustave Flaubert and many poems that were published the year after her death as Parole (Words).

To read:
1. Virtue & Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women  by David Alan Brown, Princeton, Princeton University Press: 2001.
2. "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" By Joan Kelly-Gadol, in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, edited by Renate Bridenthal & Claudia Koonz, Boston, Houghton Mifflin: 1977.

1. Federigo Zandomeneghi  Young Girl With a Bouquet of Flowers, no date given, Pinacoteca Proviciale, Bari, Italy.

2. Leonardo da Vinci - Ginevra de' Benci, c. 1474-78, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, how wonderous. Italian is a language I have long wanted to learn.

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, I heard David Alan Brown give a lecture on "Virtue & Beauty" several years ago and that alerted me to the book's existence. All the romance languages are beautiful. I was fortunate to attend a school where we could begin French study at age twelve. As for Italian, I can sing "Jingle Bells" in Italian, but that's about it. My father taught it to me when I was six years old; we had a chemist from Italy staying with us for a semester while he worked in the lab with my father. Dr Breglia was homesick for his wife and children and my father thought this would cheer him up. I think it did.