Beginning around 1850, Italians found themselves in the midst of an identity crisis. Europeans in France and England had surpassed Italians in terms of political, economic, and social progress. Italians seemed trapped in the past, clinging to their magnificent artistic heritage. However, new cultural and social movements were on the rise in Italy that attempted to throw off the domination of other European entities and forge a promising future for Italy. The Macchiaioli, a group of Italian modern artists who painted from 1853 to 1908, were the first group to address contemporary social issues such as class struggle and national weakness. Their art called for progressive change and arguably influenced how the later Italian Futurist movement would address similar concerns beginning in 1909. One of the Macchiaioli, Telemaco Signorini, advocated the development of new technologies and industries—dominated by men—in realist paintings from 1853 to 1901. Futurist artist Giacomo Balla gained recognition for promoting similar ideas in a more radical fashion. Most art historians believe that the Futurists were influenced by trends originating in Western Europe, specifically the French avant-garde. This thesis argues that the Futurists were significantly influenced by an Italian tradition that originated with the Macchiaioli. The Macchiaioli were animated by a nationalistic fervor and a desire to create a strong and unified Italian state. They used art and literature to advance progressive ideals based on masculine acts. The Futurists responded to similar stimuli in their day. In the absence of a powerful national identity, Signorini and Balla employed modern artistic styles to idealize masculine solutions to social problems. Both ultimately foresaw a world in which technology, mastered by men, would elevate Italian society.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



Date Submitted


Document Type





masculinity, Risorgimento, social change, Macchiaioli, Futurists, Realism