Vincenzo Cabianca was born in Verona in 1827, the city where he was trained at the Accademia Cignaroli, where he was a pupil of Giovanni Caliari. Initially he was influenced by the master’s manner, specialising in sacred subjects and faithful to a purism updated to the needs of local patrons. At the same time, the young painter was interested in the medieval historical revival, as confirmed by the discovery of some notebooks from his years in Verona containing sketches and studies of Gothic architecture following the example of John Ruskin. In 1846, he moved to Venice to study at the Accademia, but he was mainly fascinated by the broad and airy compositions of the 18th century and by genre painting, which he began to practice around the 1840s and 1850s, along with religious themes. Indeed, one of Cabianca’s earliest works is a Saint Euphemia of 1851, which clearly demonstrates his early adherence to academic painting in the execution of sacred subjects.
Involved in the Risorgimento uprisings, in 1848 he was forced to flee Venice, moving to Bologna, where he took part in the War of Independence, also suffering arrest and imprisonment in 1849. After his release, he stayed for some time in Milan, where he was influenced by Indunian poetics, and then returned to Verona.
The move to Florence: Macchia’s painting
In 1853, Vincenzo Cabianca reached the city that was to be fundamental to his stylistic development: Florence. He met Telemaco Signorini and Odoardo Borrani, with whom he first frequented the Caffè dell’Onore and then the Caffè Michelangelo, the birthplace of macchia painting. Slowly, in fact, the group formed which, composed of Serafino De Tivoli, Raffaello Sernesi, Adriano Cecioni, Giovanni Fattori, Cristiano Banti, Giuseppe Abbati and Silvestro Lega gave life to the renewal of Italian painting from the late 1850s onwards.
Lighting effects studied from life, the purity of the colour combinations and the absence of drawing in evocative images supported by full, constructive, spontaneous and rapid colour distinguish the Macchiaioli artists, all coming from very different cultural backgrounds but united by their faith in the Risorgimento and their expressive desire for a strong change in landscape painting.
Intimate domestic interiors and evocative light effects en plein air
The light-colour relationship immediately interested Vincenzo Cabianca, who made his debut at the 1854 Promotrice in Florence with some Portraits and continued in the following years, exhibiting mainly small genre scenes such as A confidence and The invalid recounting his past glories. Although genre subjects and history painting (for example, the 1860 canvas Young Goldoni on his journey among comedians) continued to appear at exhibitions for some time, it was from the beginning of the 1860s that Vincenzo Cabianca, among his companions, distinguished himself by choosing a balanced and serene painting of interiors or of intimate landscapes illuminated by the strong luministic contrasts of the “sun effects” and by intense and exciting portions of colour that fit together with daring and at the same time very pleasant solutions. Examples are At sunset and The Little Cowherd at the National Exhibition in Florence in 1861, Cloister in the Church of San Zeno in Verona at the Promotrice in Genoa in 1867, Acting rehearsals from the same year, The thoughtful. These are all works that contain a private and melancholic sadness, small silent and precious meditations in which light is the undisputed protagonist, whether in a domestic interior or in a rural setting.
Between Castiglioncello and Rome
During these years, he went, especially together with Cristiano Banti, to the countryside of Piantavigne and Montemurlo for long sessions of en plein air painting. Some of Cabianca’s most profound and important works come from these moments, such as The Nuns, Water Bearers, Grandfather, Spinners in Tuscany, In the Sun and Waiting. After participating regularly in all the Florentine Promotrici and the most important National Exhibitions, he took part in the first Venice Biennale in 1895 with In the courtyard of the convent and The Madonna dell’Orto Canal, the result of his repeated stays in Castiglioncello at Diego Martelli’s house in the 1880s. Despite a progressive paralysis, he was present at two other editions of the Biennale with works such as In the shadow of the presbytery and Caligo. He died in Rome in 1902, after joining, in the 1880s and 90s, the Symbolist milieu of Nino Costa and In Arte Libertas, also participating in the creation of the illustrations for D’Annunzio’s Isaotta Guttadauro in 1886.