Ever Vigilant Eyes

The Document of the Month, April 2017

There's an image that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the Duomo di Milano, an object that draws everyone's gaze upwards as they pass by the Cathedral: the Madonnina. So dear to the residents of Milan and admired by all who come to visit the Duomo from around the world, the famous golden statue has been an object of study and reflection for many, even before it was ever placed on the Main Spire.

Monsignor Angelo Ciceri, archivist for the Veneranda Fabbrica from 1949 to 1972 wrote numerous articles, both scientific and didactic, on various topics related to the Duomo and the Fabbrica. Among these many papers there is one regarding the Madonnina, published on 30 May 1962 in “L’Italia” and then, in the same year,  in the periodical “Diocesi di Milano". The rough draft of this paper is preserved in the Archives, appropriately entitled “Occhi sempre vigili” [Ever vigilant eyes] (AD, Archivio, c. 59 f. 25)

Recalling the tragedy of the world wars and the covering of the Madonnina with the famous grey-green drapery, Ciceri wrote: "How many things has she seen, both beautiful and ugly, pass beneath her feet […] she has seen two bloody and destructive conflicts[…] and she dressed in mourning while her children cried for the horrors of wars.” He went on: “Now her cloak shines once again and her eyes twinkle in the sunlight, like mystical beacons summoning us from our mundane human tasks. Few remember to lift their gaze and meet her vigilant eyes, but all residents of Milan carry her in their hearts and in their souls; they feel her presence as they work and toil and they wish she could remain ever resplendent, even when the sun sets and darkness cloaks the city”.

The desire for this statue so dear to the city to be constantly visible, recalls Ciceri, pushed the Veneranda Fabbrica to look into lighting systems that would make it possible to illuminate her at night. Prior to the war this was possible only on very few and extraordinary occasions, and that marvellous spectacle "brought the residents of Milan running to Piazza del Duomo and its adjacent streets or, for those further away, climbing to the rooftops." Technical progress eventually made it possible for this illumination to become more frequent, turning the Madonnina increasingly into "a guiding light that instils hope".

Now, as then, the Veneranda Fabbrica works to ensure that the  Madonnina always remains illuminated at night, once again putting the most advanced technology at the service of a long history which, even before the history of art and technique, is the history of man. The illumination of the Madonnina is, in fact, a reminder for all those who lift their gaze in search of that dazzling light, that over their daily, ceaseless, and maternal struggles, her "ever vigilant eyes" are keeping watch.

The official reproduction of the Madonnina, created by the Fonderia Nolana Del Giudice using the same model that was used to create the large copy of the "Madonnina" (in 1:1 scale) for the Veneranda Fabbrica's pavilion at Expo 2015, is available at the Duomo Shop (Ticket Office 1 - Sala Colonne).