Giovanni Macchia

1992 Balzan Prize for History and Criticism of Literature

For his masterly historical and critical work in literature. He has succeeded in reconciling knowledge, subtle psychological insight, and the writer’s art. His love for research and discovery became pleasure in literature for a wide readership. Comparative historian of Italian and French literature and the arts, he has brought, through his books, the proof that intelligence, culture, and sensitivity have the power to highlight the joys and anxieties of the human spirit.

Born in Trani on the 18th November 1912, Giovanni Macchia (1912 – 2001) completed his studies at the Faculty of Literature of the University of Rome. Profoundly interested in art criticism, he dedicated his thesis to Baudelaire critico. The work, published in 1939, opened new frontiers; it was reprinted in 1988 with a preface by Gianfranco Contini. The work of Baudelaire, wherever the differing aspects of modem literature and painting are discussed, is one of the reference points for the thinking of Giovanni Macchia. He devoted a new study, Baudelaire e la poetica della malinconia (1946, 1975, 1992), to him, worked on one of his plays and produced a critical edition of Fleurs du Mal which led him to meet Poe, Delacroix and Wagner.

Pisa, Catania and Rome signalled milestones in a marvellous university career, during which Giovanni Macchia moulded generations of students, some of whom have become current lecturers in French literature in Italian universities. Macchia’s interest in modem-day poetry did not, however, exclude a very live interest for the classical moralists and political idealists. Studying this kind of literature and ideas, he brought to light numerous links between great Italian writers and their French imitators or successors. He also recognised many significant relationships of feelings of the diverse times: sense of fault, melancholy, humour and secrecy. Although he was someone who understood melancholy, he still did justice to literature of a more farcical nature. Since he saw the theatre also as a place for the manifestation of passion, he put great effort into the running of institutions and publications devoted to the history of the theatre and entertainment. in his persona! work, the study of the great playwrights – Molière, Pirandello, Artaud – is most important. The study of Watteau, in I fantasmi dell’opera (1975) establishes a model for the kind of understanding, which can be expected from comparative study of other arts. It is no longer possible to fully appreciate the legendary Don Giovanni without referring to the admirable studies which Giovanni Macchia devoted to various booklets and libretti which precede the works of Mozart and Da Ponte. In Giovanni Macchia one can readily identify the skill of the playwright. In several European theatres it has been possibie to successfuily stage his works: Il Principe di Patagonia and Fille de Molière.

Worldly drama centred around Proust, attracted Giovanni Macchia’s attention, remaining above all interested in the central problem of an unfinished play whose characters are illness and “l’angelo della notte”. His method, as can be seen on this occasion, is of understanding just how far it is possible to create the work: he does justice to the biography and sociology of literature without giving them an undeserved place. Every study of Macchia, perfectly organised, is delightful for the clarity of its shape and design, for the intelligibility of its purpose, never forgetting the part of the darkness, the monsters, madness (as in Il principe di Patagonia, 1978). As Italo Calvino pointed out, the idea of catastrophe is ever-present in books like La caduta della luna or Le rovine di Parigi. Having been able to recognise the part played by irrationality and darkness in texts and in history, Giovanni Macchia has earned the right to display all his skill which shines through in one of bis latest texts: Elogio della luce (1990).

Giovanni Macchia, who is a member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, has received numerous prizes for his works. In particular, he was awarded the Premio Marzotto, the Premio Feltrinelli, the Premio Mondello and the Premio Prato in Italy; in France he received the 1988 Médicis Essais Prize for Paris en Ruines (preface by Italo Calvino).

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