Origins and history
If the Duomo is the symbol of Milan in the world, the Madonnina, perched on the highest spire of the Cathedral, represents the heart and soul of the city.
The first evidence of a possible laying of the statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the Great Spire is found in a drawing by architect Cesare Cesariano dated 1521, where a central spire surmounted by a statue of the Madonna appears.
Francesco Croce, architect of the Veneranda Fabbrica, was commissioned to build the Great Spire on 21 June 1762. In 1765 Croce proposed decorating the gran guglia (great spire) with a statue of the Virgin who was being brought to heaven by angels.
The sculptor Giuseppe Perego was commissioned to create the statue and in 1769 he presented three different solutions. Of the first and third one (the last one was selected) there are still terracotta models, preserved in the Sala della Madonnina of the Museo del Duomo, where the head, carved from the single trunk of a walnut tree is also exhibited.
The construction of the statue, which was decided on 17 June 1769, was carried out with the participation of the carver and model-maker Giuseppe Antignati for the counterform, while the blacksmith Varino provided the supporting armour. The goldsmith Giuseppe Bini modelled and beat the copper plates on the wooden model, while the gilding involved the use of 156 booklets, each made up of 2 sheets of pure gold, on the advice of the painter Anton Raphael Mengs.
There were no special ceremonies for the placement of the Madonnina, which had been completed in 1773 but remained in the building of the Veneranda Fabbrica because of the initial fear of lightning and wind until the last days of December 1774.
In August 1939, on the eve of the last World War, the Madonnina was covered with a grey-green cloth and it remained so for five years, to avoid providing an easy target to bombers. The removal of the cloth took place on 6 May 1945 with a solemn ceremony presided by Cardinal Schuster, the then Archbishop of Milan.
Between 9 June and 27 July 1967, the restoration of the Madonnina involved the entire removal of the copper sheets and their re-gilding with a mordant, as well as the replacement of the original internal iron core, which had become dangerously corroded (it is now preserved in the Museum), with one in stainless steel.
The last re-gilding of the Madonnina was carried out in 2012, when the great Great Spire was also restored.
Flag-wrapping of the Madonnina
The Madonnina is not only a religious symbol, but also an important civic one for Milan since the revolts of the “Five Days” of 1848, during which Luigi Torelli and Scipione Bagaggi raised the tricolour on the statue of the Virgin to signal the evacuation of the city by Austrian troops. The sight emboldened the hearts of the whole city and awakened the pride of the barricade fighters, leading them to victory.
Still today, on the occasion of solemn religious and civil events, the Italian flag flies on the halberd to the right of the Madonnina.
The tricolour is regularly hoisted on the following days:
- 7 January - Feast of the Tricolour
- 11 February - Lateran pacts
- 17 March - Day of National Unity, Constitution, Hymn and Flag
- From 18 to 22 March - Five Days of Milan
- 25 April - Liberation from Nazi-Fascism
- 1 May - Labour Day
- 9 May - Europe Day
- 2 June - Republic Day
- 28 September - Popular uprising against the Nazi-Fascists in Naples
- 4 October - Day of Saint Francis and Saint Catherine, patron saints of Italy
- 4 November - Day of National Unity and of the Armed Forces
The numbers of the Madonnina
- 4.16 m: the height of the statue
- 33: the copper plates that cover the statue
- 399.200 kg: the weight of the slabs
- 584.800 kg: the weight of the stainless steel supporting structure
- 6750: the sheets of pure gold used in the last gilding