A very important figure in the Italian XIX Century painting, Banti received a neoclassical education at the Art Institute of Siena, where he studied under the guidance of Francesco Cenci.

In 1848 he won the triennal competition with the painting “Domenico Mecherino figlio di Pacio colono trovato a disegnare le pecore dal suo padrone Beccafumi”(Domenico Mecherino, son of Pacio the farmer when he was found painting the sheep by his master Beccafumi). The planning out and the emphasis on colour of this work, which reminds of Giuseppe Bezzuoli, show that the young Banti’s interests were far away from the Siena Academy. In 1851 he painted a “San Rocco” (Saint Rocco) for the collegiate church of Santa Croce sull’Arno, again inspired in its colours by Bezzuoli.

In 1854 he moved to Florence, where he began to attend the Caffé Michelangelo. The 50’s production is made up mainly by historical paintings, like “Episodio del Sacco di Roma” (Episode of the sack of Rome), 1856, influenced by Saverio Altamura, an example of the “a macchie” treatment and similar to a sketch, typical of the Florentine historical painting of the period; “Galileo Galilei davanti all’Inquisizione” (Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition), which was exhibited at the Florentine Promotrice of 1857; “Torquato Tasso and Eleonora d’Este”, 1858, “La congiura” (The plot), 1859 where it is clearly shown that Banti knew the painting of Domenico Morelli of Neaples, who had recently moved to Florence. In the same period he married and frequently stayed in the villas of Montorsoli and Montemurlo, where friends and less wealthy artists were his guests and where he gathered an important collection of works of Fattori, Boldini, Abbati, Signorini, Lega and also some Corots and Courbets and a dozen of Fontanesi.

In 1858 he met in Florence Edgar Degas, who was working on “Famiglia Bellelli” (The Belelli Family). In the Spring of 1860, aware of the increasing importance of the “macchia” in the make of the painting, he began to paint “en plein air” in the countryside of Montelupo together with Signorini and Borrani; later on he worked with Cabianca in Montemurlo, then in La Spezia with Altamura and Signorini. Dating back to this period are works like “Bimbi al sole” (Children in the Sun) and “Contadina con un bambino” (Countrywoman with children), where he obtained simplified and vivid colours, of extraordinary brightness.

In May 1861 he went to Paris with Signorini and Cabianca (he will return there again in 1871, 1874 and 1875). Here he deepened the knowledge of Barbizon painting visiting an exhibition organized by the National Fine Arts Society and meeting Troyon and Corot. Back in Florence, he painted “Riunione di contadine” (Meeting of Countrywomen), which shows a new maturity and stylistic refinement. About 1865 he gave birth to masterpieces like “Tre vecchie in riposo” (Three old women at rest), “In via per la chiesa” (On the road to the church), “Le guardiane di porci” (The swineherds). Not in need of money, he preferred to paint for himself, showing a few of his works and not looking for success, only glad of the acknowledgment of valued friends like Fattori and Signorini.

He spent more and more time in the countryside, working hard. In 1870 with Signorini, Cecioni and Raffaello Sorbi he was member of the jury of the National Exhibition of Parma; on this occasion, he broke his friendship with Signorini, later he will begin a long fellowship with Giovanni Boldini, who had not yet moved to Paris.

In the 80’s he reached high levels of quality with paintings like “Tre contadine sedute dinanzi a una siepe” (Three Countrywomen seated in front of an hedge) and “Le lavoranti di paglia della Val d’Elsa” (Straw workers of Val d’Elsa), 1886, which he gave to the Minister of Education and where even Raphaelesque and sixteenth-century reminiscences are recognisable, filtered through the knowledge of the European contemporary painting. In 1884 he was appointed Professor at the Florence Academy and member of the Reorganizer Commission of the Uffizi.

He died, eighty-year-old, in Montemurlo.

Written by: Gioela Massagli – Translated by: Cristina Panigada

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