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Fig thieves (Urchins)

Raffaello Sernesi (Florence 1838 - Bolzano 1866)

ca 1860-61
Sala 11
Oil on paperboard
cm 18,2x13,5
Gen. 177, Com. 50

After an initial, albeit discontinuous, academic training, Raffaello Sernesi approached the Macchiaioli group in 1859, sharing their revolutionary approach to art as well as their patriotic ideas on politics.

The study of the Tuscan masters of the 15th century was also a way for him to learn how to construct images with a few simple elements and a clear perspective layout.

His paintings, like those of the other artists who frequented the historic Caffè Michelangelo, mostly depicted subjects of everyday life, such as this one in which two boys are furtively picking figs from a tree. The petty theft is depicted with effective economy of means: sharp colour distribution in the background, strong colours, such as that of the blue sky contrasting with the red door; intense light and shadow that help define the depth and layout of the space.

The small painting, which was probably the sketch for a painting (now lost) presented at the exhibition of the Florentine Promotrice Society in 1861, belongs to a rather early phase of Sernesi's Macchaioli school painting. As affirmed by his painter friend Telemaco Signorini, in 1859 the artist “passed from the four walls of the studio to observing the real thing, under the perfectly free sky of nature” (Signorini, 1867).

While the intent of a small masterpiece such as this was certainly the restitution of a piece of truth, the gentle poetry of everyday life that flows from it is as obvious to us as it was to our Macchiaoli friends. As a matter of fact, Telemaco used to remember his young friend, who died in 1866 from the consequences of a war wound suffered as a volunteer in the Third War of Independence, with similar words:

“everything your pen could touch / gained serene life and gentleness” (Signorini, 1902).

The painting is part of the Legato Diego Martelli, a donation through which the Florentine critic, at the end of the 19th century, created the nucleus of the most important collection of Macchiaioli painting in the newly established Gallery of Modern Art in Florence.


T. Signorini, R. S., in Gazzettino delle arti del disegno, 3 agosto 1867, p. 230;T. Signorini, A Raffaello Sernesi, in E. Panzacchi, Il Libro degli Artisti, Milano 1902, p. 524;C. Del Bravo, La luce di Sernesi, in “Artista” 1997 pp. 146-158; L. Lombardi, in I Macchiaioli prima dell'Impressionismo, a c. di F. Mazzocca, C. Sisi, Venezia 2003, pp. 210-211; S. Bietoletti, in La Galleria d'arte moderna. Storia e collezioni, a c. di C. Sisi, Milano 2005, p. 159.

Text by
Chiara Ulivi
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