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22 August Aug 2016 1022 8 months ago

The rough models of the Madonnina, a story of faith and art

Exploring the Madonnina room within the Grande Museo del Duomo and learning about a great sculptor: Giuseppe Perego

Copper model of the statue to place on the great spire. - Antignati wood carver. - Preda goldsmith. - De Giorgi painter. - Perego sculptor.
Saturday, 17 June 1769.

Having decided to commission a copper statue, which is to be placed on the great spire, Antignati is hired to create the wood model of the statue, Preda the goldsmith to create its copper version, and painter De Giorgi to assist sculptor Perego in the physical appearance of the model.
Sculptor Giuseppe Perego presents the models of the Statue of Our Lady of Assumption to be placed on the great spire.
Monday, 6 August 1770.

The architect reports back regarding the clay models for the Statue of Our Lady of Assumption to be placed on the great spire, presented by sculptor Giuseppe Perego. The Chapter will decide.

(Annals of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, vol. VI)

The story of the Madonnina is one of genius and passion, of creativity and knowledge, made possible thanks to the dedication of many men who worked intensely within the Fabbrica so that the image of the Virgin Mary, a symbol of protection for all, could open her arms and embrace the world from the highest point in the city. But how was this image created? Today’s tale takes us within the Grande Museo del Duomo, to explore the room dedicated to the Madonnina and to the sculptor Giuseppe Perego.

In 1731 Giuseppe Perego was already collaborating with the Dominione studio, in Milan’s most active and important neighbourhood: that of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo. It wasn’t until after his apprenticeship at the Buzzi studio that Perego asked to be admitted among the Fabbrica’s sculptors, and his first real opportunity presented itself in 1760 with his first commission for the Duomo, specifically the statue of the warrior for the Amedeo spire.

On 16 July 1765, the Fabbrica Chapter was deliberating on the construction of “the great spire”, a decision which immediately extended to “all of the Fabbrica’s sculptors”. It was a competition to create “the most opulent statue to adorn the exterior of the Duomo”. In 1768 Perego worked for almost eight months on the preparation of models and, specifically, rough drafts of the Lady of Assumption. The competition was narrowed down to two sculptors: Perego and Marini.

Despite not having the approval of Croce, the architect and designer of the spire, the Council was leaning towards Perego. The Cassina Chapter subsequently decided that painter Antonio De Giorgi would be charged with supervision of the model, “both the wooden and copper versions” and that sculptor Perego would have to create “another or other versions depending on the orders which we will give him”.

On 22 September 1769, at Perego’s studio to evaluate the clay models of the Lady of Assumption, Croce found two, “one ...that depicts the Virgin Mary on a cloud, surrounded by various angels and cherubs; the other that shows the Virgin Mary on a small cloud, accompanied by little angels”. The version previously chosen by the Chapter, depicting the Lady of Assumption “on a cloud without angels at her feet”, was at that moment in the studio of wood carver Antignati who was to recreate the model of the Virgin Mary from a single trunk of walnut, which would then be converted into embossed copper by goldsmith Bini, and finally placed on the Cathedral’s great spire in 1774.

The two clay models, each considered works by Perego, are preserved in the Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano. The first, when compared to the golden statue atop the vetta al Domm, is without a doubt the version that had been selected in 1769. Four of the eight angels sitting at the Lady of Assumption’s feet were added by Giuseppe Perego while he was working on it, between 1770 and 1772. The three angels holding the tables of the law, the harp, and the lamp, respectively, are strongly influenced by 7th-century artistic language, while the fourth reflects the classicism of Lombardian art at the end of the 16th century. The second clay model was discarded by the Commission after Croce made him perfect it by adding a number of angels: “a swarm of winged puttini and cherubs”, with the beating of their wings and the movement of their legs create a propulsive force that lifts the very light body of the Virgin Mary upwards. The elevation is highlighted by the fluttering of a hem of her dress which has billowed with the wind, Perego’s stylistic signature. 

To admire the models of the Blessed Virgin and learn more about the history of the Cathedral’s sculpture, with the inclusion of poetry and interesting facts, we invite you to visit the Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano, open to the public throughout the month of August.