It’s not too long ago that most people had no idea what the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was. It was only in the last few decades that this collective was given the importance they deserved and went from overlooked to focal point of study for XIX Century Art and Literature. Why does the general public often forget about its geniuses only to bring them back in the spotlights decades, if not centuries later? It’s often a matter of circumstances: luck, influence at the time, general tastes, etc…
What you might not know, is that there was an actual literary brotherhood in Italy too: bearers of a bohemian lifestyle, the “Scapigliati” (literally, “Dishevelled“), was a collective that not only embodied a concept of life, but their contributions would interest fields such literature, the visual arts and mostly poetry.
To my knowledge, “Scapigliatura” is almost never translated into English, but “Dishelvelment” is the word. It means to keep your hair in a messy way in Italian, but I’m keen on thinking that rarely the term is associated with this Italian movement.
Despite calling it a movement, there never were common rules or an official statement which would indicate they were to be known as a group with a concrete direction. If there are comparisons to be drawn, it’s between the Scapigliati and the poètes maudits. Italian literature had finally found a way to label the bohemian lifestyle and artistic works inspired by such attitude, but never became too prominent. The novel “La Scapigliatura e il 6 febbraio” (“Dishevelment and 6th February“) by author Cletto Arrighi, was published in 1862 and despite its role in inspiring the name of this pseudo-movement, still seems to be overlooked by literary studies. The main character, Emilio Digliani, leads a bohemian life but despite that, the plot focuses on his love interest with an upper-class married woman whose husband discovers their affair and ultimately challenged Emilio to a duel which leads to unexpected revelations regarding a twist about their origins.
Despite criticising Italian Romanticism, these authors owe it the ideals of the poètes maudits they got from French Literature, as Italian Romanticism was born with an encouragement for Italian authors to look to other European Literatures to gain inspiration. E.T.A. Hoffmann or Charles Baudelaire both served as inspiration, as the unofficial movement always tried to see the difference between the reality of things and their ideals, knowing the two could ever hardly match.
Emilio Praga (probably the most prominent among all), Giovanni Camerana, Carlo Dossi, Luigi Conconi and Iginio Ugo Tarchetti were the major figures of Dishevelment in the field of poetry, and in music Giacomo Puccini must be the most popular. It is no coincidence that one of his early works is called “La bohème” (which premiered in Turin in 1896).
But “disheveled” is also a term applied to paintings and painters. In particular, Tranquillo Cremona, Daniele Ranzoni and Giuseppe Grandi used to work together (and would call themselves “the trinity of giant dwarfs“) and are today considered the main representative painters of such movement (dare we speak of ‘movement‘ here, since they were all looking for a common perspective?) and it’s a painting by Eugenio Gignous titled “Cremona che dipinge” (1875) that serves as picture of this post.
The paintings were, like the literary works and their authors, overlooked. Most of these paintings were created in academic environment or strict circles, which explains the reason why they have been overlooked (this, and the fact that the paintings came way too late. Everybody was already amazed by Impressionists and what France was offering at the time), and display the use of light in an experimental way.
But why have the literary Disheleved often been overlooked by literary studies? As in the case of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, it could be that by attacking the most prominent movements and leading such alternative lifestyles, they ended up alienating the literary critics of the time and never reached the share of attention they were calling for. While most European authors were having similar reactions to the events of their time, every country was evolving in different ways and internally focusing on certain themes and topics instead of others. Surely, attacking the Risorgimento (“Resurgence” in English, the historical process through which Italy was unified) and its literary expressions must have caused those in charge of printing literary works at the time to look away.
Besides, it was the 1870s: Romanticism was at its peak and Naturalism was coming, so it was mainly a matter of timing. Dishevelment (not “Dishelevism“!) was also definitely an anticipation of Crepuscolarismo (in English, “Twilight poets“) and Decadentism. One way or another, Dishevelment followed, supported or anticipated other literary or art movements in very different ways, losing the spotlight. But sometimes, recognition comes where credit’s due. Even if it takes decades. Or centuries.