The symbol of the city and patroness of the Milanese people, the Madonnina was raised onto the main spire of Milan’s Duomo in late December 1774: the huge statue is composed of embossed and gilded copper plates, supported by a framework which is now in stainless steel.
Madonnina – Origin and history
The first record of a proposal to place a statue of the Virgin Mary on the main spire can be found in a drawing by the architect Cesare Cesariano dated 1521, in which a central spire surmounted by a statue of Our Lady of the Assumption appears.
Francesco Croce, architect to the Veneranda Fabbrica, received the commission to build the main spire on 21 June 1762. In 1765, Croce suggested that the Great Spire should be decorated with a statue of the Virgin Mary carried up to heaven by angels.
The commission to make the statue was entrusted to the sculptor Giuseppe Perego, who in 1769 proposed several models; the first was rejected by the Fabbrica del Duomo due to the enormous size of the composition, in particular of the tall base composed of angels and cherubs amid clouds; the second was rejected because of the figures of angels at its foot; the third model was on the contrary approved and made with the addition of tiny heads of little angels amid clouds.
There are still terracotta models of the first and third proposals and these can be admired in the Madonnina Room of the Grande Museo del Duomo, where the full-sized model for the head carved from a single piece of walnut wood and the original interior structure of the Madonnina, replaced during the restoration work in 1967, are also on show.
The resolution to commission the statue was passed on 17 June 1769, entrusting the work for the model to the sculptor and model maker Giuseppe Antignati, while the blacksmith Varino made the supporting framework.
The goldsmith Giuseppe Bini was chosen to model and beat the copper plates onto the wooden model, while the gilding was accomplished using 156 books, each with 2 leafs of pure gold, at the suggestion of the painter Anton Raphael Mengs.
No particular ceremonies were held to mark the positioning of the Madonnina, which was completed in 1773, but remained in the Veneranda Fabbrica building until 30 October 1774 due to initial fear of thunderbolts and wind.
In August 1939, on the eve of World War II, the Madonnina was covered with a grey-green cloth and remained covered for five years, to avoid providing an easy target for fighter-bombers.
It was once again uncovered on 6 May 1945 with a solemn ceremony by Cardinal Schuster, then archbishop of Milan.
From 9 June to 27 July 1967, restoration of the Madonnina involved total dismantling of the copper plates and mordant regilding, as well as replacement of the original inner iron structure, which was dangerously corroded, with a new one in stainless steel.
The most recent work to regild the Madonnina was conducted in 2012, during restoration work on the Main Spire.
A few numbers:
• 4.16 m: the height of the Madonnina
• 33: the number of copper plates cladding the statue
• 399.200 kg: the weight of the plates
• 584.800 kg: the weight of the stainless steel supporting structure
• 6750: the sheets of pure gold foil used for the latest gilding work
Source from official site: www.duomomilano.it