Macchia

by thomasmagnahastings

‘Macchia’ is an Italian word meaning spot, daub or otherwise mote. This word was taken up as an aesthetic idea by the Macchiaioli painters of nineteenth century Tuscany, whose painterly eye mirrored the formal concerns of the French Impressionist School but claimed a separate tradition. For these men ‘macchia’ linked the first sighting of a landscape to the painting’s final gloss. Sight and gloss are two poles that delineate the jurisdiction of mimesis. By presenting a historically distanced object up close mimesis permits painting’s gloss to ascend over the markings of sight to furnish the facing subject with an originary scene. Here gloss acts as a go-between that slips deferentially from view once the subject has secured a judgment—a judgment that feels closer to the sense making of sight than the determinations of thought because it takes possession of gloss’ effect.

‘Macchia’ is not a physical mark per se, but a marker of reflective judgment’s possession of gloss’ worldly equivalent—first sight. The Macchiaioli encrypted this sight through the auto-execution of a preliminary sketch. The unilateral compounding of gloss and sight denuded the seriousness of the spectator whose absence from the world was suddenly and visibly felt. Though mimesis’ curtailment was shortly perfected by photography’s index, the painter might be seen to have found the punctum first.

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