Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II

Author: Ercole Rosa
Title: Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
Date: 1880 – 1896
Location: piazza del Duomo, Milan

Above: Ercole Rosa, Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, 1880 – 1896, piazza del Duomo, Milan, photo by Andrea Scuratti – Comune di Milano.

The King, leader of United Italy, is portrayed in full uniform in the act of restraining his horse on the battlefield, while the bas-reliefs of the base depict episodes of the Risorgimento battles. The two lions hold one the Savoy shield, intended as a symbol of the unification of Italy, the other a shield with the inscription Rome, praising the capital of the Nation, painstakingly conquered.

On January 10th 1878, the city council met to honor the memory of the King who had just passed away, identifying in the area in front of the Royal Palace the location for an imposing monument dedicated to him. Soon, a better location was found in the center of the square and a competition in 1880 identified the best project in a sketch by Ercole Rosa, an eminent Roman sculptor. Since then, this became Rosa’s main commitment, but she did not have the good fortune to see it accomplished: he died in 1893, leaving to his friend Ettore Ferrari, also a Roman, the task of completing the undertaking.

The result is a sculpture that today we can consider rhetorical and celebratory, but which at the time of its execution had a precise and actual significance. This monument is part of the most crowded square of Milan, Piazza Duomo, where tourists and citizens usually pay little attention to it, passing quickly and busy. In 1970, an avant-garde artist, Christo, found a way to making it visible again, and he did it in his own paradoxical manner, hiding it: on November 24th, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, he wrapped it in a polypropylene sheet, sealed with a red rope. This intervention sparked the enthusiasm of modern art followers and a fierce criticism among its detractors, but above all, amazement and even amused hilarity among the Milanese.