The Cloister of Santa Croce
An epitome of the technique of brush painting, this small painting was inspired by the construction of the nineteenth-century courtyard and façade of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. As the mentor and art critic Diego Martelli noted, in 1861 Abbati “dedicated himself to a serious study in the cloisters of Santa Croce where, during the restoration works, large blocks of marble in different colours were used, offering the student the opportunity to observe well-defined marble and decisive and, I would say, almost elementary contrasts of colour and chiaroscuro”. Indeed, the blocks of marble became an opportunity to experiment with different techniques of synthesis and geometry, as well as the relationships between shapes and sunlight. The thick brushstrokes emphasize the shapes without the help of outlines, while the setting is a realistic and well-defined environment created through the use of perspective employed by the fifteenth-century masters who were much loved and studied by the Macchiaioli movement.
Originally corresponding to the rather pejorative meaning of “stain”, the Italian term macchia first appeared in 1862 in an article of the “Gazzetta del Popolo” journal in reference to the technique used by the artists who, in around 1855, had undertaken an anti-academic revolution of Italian painting based on the direct observation of reality, the exploration of contemporary themes and the use of a more simplified painting style in which images were represented as though seen from a distance and depicted as shapes and lights without detailed elements.