Michele Cammarano, born in Naples in 1835, came from a family of artists, receiving his first training from his grandfather Giuseppe, but also from his father Salvatore. In 1853 he began to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, where he followed Gabriele Smargiassi’s lessons, while at the same time attending the studio of the set designer Venier. In 1855 he exhibited the academic essay The Crusaders who cut down trees in a wood to build a war machine, kept at the San Martino Museum in Naples.
These were the years in which he began to frequent Domenico Morelli and Bernardo Celentano, taking an in-depth interest in history painting rich in new chromatic solutions. In fact, he was strongly attracted to painting from life and therefore frequented Nicola Palizzi’s studio, from which he was encouraged to paint en plein air in Capri and Cava dei Tirreni. Immediately afterwards, his acquaintance with Nicola’s brother, Filippo Palizzi, brought him closer to a meticulous and lively realism, and above all to a move away from the still partly academic landscape to which Smargiassi had introduced him.
Soon, however, after his participation in Garibaldi’s campaign in 1860, he also moved away from Palizzi’s calligraphy to achieve a highly personal synthetic and chromatic rendering of reality. The inevitable stylistic update arrived punctually with his trip to Florence, where he was greatly influenced by the innovations of Nino Costa and Vincenzo Cabianca, whom he met at the Caffè Michelangelo.
The Florentine Exhibition of 1861 entitled Due martiri per la patria (Two Martyrs for the Fatherland) responded to the innovations he had learned during his stay in Tuscany. A careful realism also emerges from the two works presented at the Neapolitan Promotrice of 1862, Episode of the earthquake of Torre del Greco del 1862 and Naples, the 2nd of November. Morellian and Palizzian traits can be found in Idleness and Work and in the Good Time! (1864).
The following year, Michele Cammarano moved to Rome to keep abreast of international developments: he met Mariano Fortuny, Cesare Fracassini and French painters such as Guerin and Duran. He worked mainly on landscapes taken from life in the Roman countryside, but also drew much inspiration from 17th-century painting, whereby he arrived at a classicism mediated by realism and above all his palette became less brilliant and richer in chiaroscuro. In addition, he added social issues to his usual themes, resulting in works such as Roman Charity and The Resources of the Poor, which directly recall the examples of Teofilo Patini.
The Risorgimento and colonial episodes
At the end of the 1960s, Cammarano stayed in Venice, where he established exchanges and relationships with artists such as Giacomo Favretto and Luigi Nono. This Venetian period, in which Cammarano enriched himself and definitively matured his language, saw the creation of the beautiful Piazza San Marco, important for its luministic rendering and, above all, The Encouragement of Vice. This painting, exhibited in 1868, is very bitter in its theme and is appreciated for its chromatic synthesis, imbued with Neapolitan foundations but also with Macchiaioli luminism.
Hard, sincere realism was now Cammarano’s hallmark, and in 1870 he decided to stay in Paris to meet Gustave Courbet, but was also attracted by Delacroix, Ingres and Millet. On his return to Rome, he devoted himself to the composition of Charge of the Bersaglieri at the walls of Rome, exhibited in Milan in 1872, then in Vienna in 1873 and in London in 1888. A den of brigands appeared at the 1877 Naples Exhibition, while June the 24th, San Martino was exhibited in Rome in 1883.
Landscapes of the Roman countryside, battles and scenes continued to appear in the 1880s: in Florence in 1886 he sent The Lover, Southern Landscape, Study; at the National Exhibition in Venice in 1887 he presented A Game of Trumpet. The following year and until 1893 he stayed in Massawa because the government commissioned him to paint a picture dedicated to the Battle of Dogali. Numerous studies led to a large canvas that was only finished in 1896 and is now in the National Gallery in Rome. In 1900 he replaced Filippo Palizzi in the chair of landscape painting at the Academy of Naples, leaving a strong impression on his pupils. He died in Naples in 1920.