SIGNORINI, Telemaco
(b. 1835, Firenze, d. 1901, Firenze)

Insane Ward at San Bonifacio's, Florence

1866-67
Oil on canvas, 63 x 95 cm
Museo d'Arte Moderna, Ca' Pesaro, Venice

The mid-nineteenth century in Italy was the period of the Risorgimento, the movement that culminated in Italian unification. That movement provided the political and cultural backdrop for one of the most important and influential groups in Italian art in the second half of the nineteenth century: the Macchiaioli. This group of landscape, portrait and genre painters, flourishing from about 1850 to 1880, was based on Florence. The core of the Macchiaioli consisted of eleven painters born between 1824 and 1838, most important of them among the older painters were Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Serafino de Tivoli, and Vincenzo Cabianca, while Giuseppe Abbati and Telemaco Signorini belonged to the younger. There were some other artists associated with the group to varying extent, such as Guglielmo Ciardi, Giuseppe de Nittis, Federigo Zandomeneghi, and Giovanni Boldini. The last-named three all took their bearings from France, and eventually moved to Paris.

Signorini showed an early interest in sociocritical writings and in French Positivism. This interest was also expressed in paintings that articulated his social concerns, such as the impressive Insane Ward at San Bonifacio's, Florence. When it was exhibited in Turin in 1870, the painting sparked violent controversy. Degas, a friend of Signorini since the latter's visit to Paris, responded enthusiastically to its close observation of real conditions.