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Italy - History of the National Flag

Last modified: 2021-01-01 by rob raeside
Keywords: italy | historical | cispadane republic | cisalpine republic | transpadane republic | legion lombarda | lombardy |
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Legion Lombarda circa 1796
  image by Mario Fabretto, 9 January 1997

Cispadane Republic Flag
  image by Mario Fabretto, 9 January 1997

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A Brief History of the Tricolore

Under the Napoleonic rule the Cisalpine Republic (Repubblica Cisalpina) uses the now-known-as Italian flag.
The same, but with Royal arms on the white strip.
The flag, with the Savoy arms on the white strip is the flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia (Regno di Sardegna, meaning Piedmont and Sardinia), later (1861) Kingdom of Italy .
The flag is used, without any arms, from the now-born Italian Republic. The flag is used since 19th June 1946, officially since 1st January 1948.
Alessio Bragadini

Yesterday we celebrated in Italy the bicentennial of our tricolour flag. Actually, the date of 7 January 1797 corresponds to the adoption of the Cispadane Republic flag which was horizontally arranged with the emblem of the Republic in the middle. The flag, in the form we use it today, was adopted only on 17 July 1797 by the Cisalpine Republic, which arose from the fusion of the Cispadana and Transpadana Republics. The first vertical tricoloured design was, on the contrary, adopted earlier, in 1796, for the regimental standards of the Legione Lombarda, a military corps created in the Transpadana Republic.
Mario Fabretto
, 9 January 1997

From <>:
From the acts of the XIV session of the Cispadane Congress "Reggio Emilia, 7th January 1797, 11 hours. Patriotic Room. The intervenients are 100, deputies of the populations of Bologna, Ferrara, Modena and Reggio Emilia. Giuseppe Compagnoni from Lugo puts a motion for the universal adoption of the three-coloured green white and red Cispadane standard or flag, and that these three colours are used also in the Cispadane "Cocarda" (cockade worn on hats, lapels, etc.), which should be used by all. It has been decreed so."
Dov Gutterman
(Translated by Jorge Candeias), 11 January 1999

The site you refer to is owned by the Committee for the First Tricolore. They are settled at Reggio Emilia, place where the Italian Tricolore was first proposed, and they manage to maintain alive the tradition and history of our national flag.
Pier Paolo Lugli
, 11 January 1999

While I was in Madrid recently I visited an excellent art gallery called the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Among the paintings that I saw there was one called 'Vista de Venezia, 1845' (view of Venice, 1845') by an English artist named Robert Salmon.
Clearly visible on shipping in the foreground was the red-white- red triflag of Austria; a blue flag with a red canton, presumably that of Sardinia; and a plain green-white-red vertical tricolour.
The presence of the latter flag surprised me as I had thought it only reappeared three years later - in 1848. I was inclined to suspect that the painting might have been incorrectly dated when I noticed that the date of the artist's death was also given as 1845. It would be comparatively easy to misdate a painting by a few years, but I think it very unlikely that the date of an artist's death would be incorrect too.
So, can anyone say whether the Italian tricolour was in common use prior to 1848?
I am aware of the flag's origin in the revolutionary period, but I thought that it then disappeared from view for a few decades until its use was revived in 1848. The painting that I saw in Madrid seems to indicate that it was openly flown in an Austrian possession in 1845 and I find this rather surprising.
Vincent Morley
, 19 October 1999

It is impossible that a Sardinian ship displayed a national Italian tricolour before 1848
Pier Paolo Lugli
, 22 October 1999

Maybe the painting was later restored and "corrected" to the Italian flag either out of vex-ignorance or out of misguided patriotism?
Antonio Martins
, 22 October 1999

I think that is one of the two most likely explanations. The other obvious explanation is that the flag was in popular but unofficial use during the 1840s as a symbol of Italian unity and independence - analogous to the use of the Green Flag in Ireland at the same time.
On balance, I tend to favour the latter explanation for two reasons:
1. Because the flag in the painting is a plain tricolour without the defacing arms that might be expected if it were a post-1848 addition.
2. Because the tricolour was adopted as a revolutionary symbol in 1848 - which suggests that it had not been entirely forgotten during the preceding period.
However, the alternative explanation that António puts forward certainly can't be dismissed.
Vincent Morley
, 22 October 1999

The Italian colours that goes back further than the 1790s. The colours may have been significant for many hundreds of years, as they appear in Dante's Purgatorio (in Canto XXX, Beatrice appears dressed in "white", "green" and "the colour of living flame" (plus an olive crown); Dante calls the colours "the signs of the old flame". Some interpretations of the Comedy say that the colours symbolise Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Kieron Merrett, 25 January 2006

An undoubtedly interesting and pleasing coincidence. But the explanations and hypotheses on the page don't suggest a reference to Dante's Divine Comedy. The green and white colours on the uniforms of the Milan civic militia are derived more probably from the flag of the Milan Dukedom (Visconti flag, green snake on white field). We may ask the question why Dante and the Viscontis choose those colours - it might have been of the same reasons, but unless there's an evidence that the chosen flag colours had been inspired by Dante's work there can't be made a link between them.
Martin Karner, 25 January 2006


A. Ziggiotto "Le bandiere degli Stati italiani" on "Armi Antiche" (1970) [zig70]
A. Ziggiotto "Le bandiere degli Stati italiani pre-unitari" on Vexilla Italica 1, XXIV (1997) [zig97]
Mario Fabretto