The sculptures of the Grande Museo del Duomo originate from a range of different sources: some were originally located on the ledges at the sides and splays of the Cathedral windows, others were located on the spires, and other still came from the capitals on top of the pillars. Of all of these, one in particular stands out: the beautiful statue of St Agnes.
The saint is portrayed holding a lamb, which is a reference to her name (translator's note: in Italian "lamb" is "agnello"). She is draped in a cloth which follows her movements as she walks, and her elegant hairstyle, delicately sculpted into the marble is notable. This admirable sculpture, along with another three statues, was donated to the Veneranda Fabbrica by sculptor Benedetto Briosco “due to his devotion" as the sources tell us.
Even if he had already figured in the documents of the Veneranda Fabbrica as “magister a figuris” in 1482, following a series of important and prestigious jobs outside the Cathedral, at the beginning of the 1900s, Briosco again began working on the great restoration site of the Duomo, probably because of his promise to sculpt four statues at his own expense - including indeed, our St Agnes (1491) - in Carrara marble and not Candoglia marble, the material used for the works of the Duomo.
His magnificent work was probably the statue placed on the altar dedicated to the saint to whom Ottone Visconti (1207-1295) had dedicated a chapel in the Basilica of Santa Tecla to commemorate the battle of Desio (1277). During this battle, legend has it that the Saint appeared on the battlefield, awarding victory to the faction led by the archbishop. The cult of the saint was transferred to the Duomo when it was founded in 1386.
According to recent reconstructions, St Charles Borromeo had had the saint "put back" on the capital of the pillar, where she was discovered and identified by critic and academic Ugo Nebbia in 1908, after the altar, once made of painted wood and decorated with statues, was dismantled to make room for the new one that replaced it in the 16th century.