The emblem of the Italian Republic is characterized by three elements: the star, the toothed wheel, the olive and oak branches. The olive branch symbolizes the nation's will for peace, both in the sense of internal harmony and international brotherhood. The oak branch, which closes the emblem on the right, embodies the strength and dignity of the Italian people. Both, then, are an expression of the most typical species of our arboreal heritage. The steel cogwheel, symbol of work, translates the first article of the Constitution: "Italy is a democratic republic founded on work". The star is one of the oldest objects in our iconographic heritage and has always been associated with the personification of Italy, on whose head it shines radiantly. Thus it was represented in the iconography of the Risorgimento and so it appeared, until 1890, in the great coat of arms of the united kingdom (the famous stellone); the star then characterized the first republican honor of the reconstruction, the Star of Italian Solidarity and still today indicates belonging to the Armed Forces of our country ”.
What, if not the emblem of the Republic itself, represents the highest, most concise and most effective point of institutional communication?
Since May 5, 1948, when the current complex emblem was adopted by legislative decree signed by Enrico De Nicola, all Italians know that, next to the tricolor, there is a graphic sign that unites them indistinctly. Of course, a sign that is neither essential nor modern. A star, a gear wheel, an oak branch, an olive branch and a ribbon engraved with the words Repubblica Italiana. A sign of peace, of work, of an enlightened path towards the future and of legitimate ambitions for harmony and progress. With the open declaration of the constitutional identity of the state itself.
When it was created, this emblem (which, as it is known, then gives life to the seals and symbols through which it is used) had to deal with the somewhat agitated climate of the events that preceded the advent of the Republic. And he also had to deal with the symbolic culture of the time and with the need to express - on a graphic level - a factor of novelty and at the same time a factor of tradition. The end of hostilities, the Constitution written for all Italians, the reconstruction program, this required.
It was not an arbitrary act. It was not a state technical office that prepared a document ordered by the government. A competition was launched, 341 candidates participated who produced almost 637 drawings which today constitute an extraordinary testimony not only of the graphic culture of the time but also of a multiple interpretation - albeit in the synthetic concision of a few square centimeters - of the relationship between ideals, expectations and hopes of a changed society. And it was about to face even greater changes. At that time, a professor of Waldensian culture and religion from Torre Pellice, born on February 12, 1885, a teacher for 40 years in an artistic high school in Rome, who died in 1963: Professor Paolo Paschetto. According to some testimonies, once the selection was completed and the project was chosen, it was decided to reopen the competition for some time. Another hundred ideas flocked to Rome and at the end of this second selection, Professor Paschetto's “multi-coded” proposal was confirmed as the winner ”. The first winning sketch of the competition responded to a precise theming imposed by the Commission: “A turreted wall that has the shape of a crown”, surrounded by a garland of Italian flora. Below, the representation of the sea, above, the golden star of Italy; finally, the words UNITY and FREEDOM ”. Once the sketch was successful (which already at that stage encountered ironic comments and the nickname of "tub"), we moved to the second launch of the competition of ideas (with radio announcement) which with other graphic developments again led Paolo Paschetto to prevail but with other processing.
The sketch, with adjustments made in the Constituent Assembly and with some contrast, was then definitively approved. For 40 years, no one thought of revising, changing or modernizing the emblem. The idea of a new visual symbol matured at the Quirinale, when Francesco Cossiga was President of the Republic, as part of the initiatives planned for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Republic. A competition of ideas was drawn up to ask - in a non-indiscriminate way - the country to make graphic proposals representative of the interpretative culture of our time. For these reasons, the president of the Council of Ministers appointed a commission of experts to constitute itself as a judicial body. On the one hand exponents of creativity, on the other exponents of the Administration. Under the presidency of Giuliano Amato (then Undersecretary of State to the Presidency), in fact, some great Italian artists (such as Aligi Sassu and Emilio Greco), some talents of graphics and advertising (such as Bruno Munari and Armando Testa) gathered on this topic. , exponents of architecture (such as Paolo Portoghesi) or of semiological research (such as Umberto Eco). Together with them, the representatives of the main institutions of the state. It was a question of carrying out an in-depth study of the identity of the subject to be represented. And then to make an evaluation of the fundamental objective that a symbol in any case constitutes: that of associating the best image of the represented subject with the aesthetic quality. “Italy in the mirror”, in short. At the time there was talk of "a good opportunity to re-examine, in neither rhetoric nor bogus form, the country's desire to represent itself modernly and effectively".
200 papers from professional groups arrived (which also contained heraldry to make things difficult). Then - discarded and exposed everything that Umberto Eco called "the symbolic wandering culture of the country" - it was realized that that culture wandered little and wandered above all in re-proposing ancient symbols, already seen and revised mostly in the historical graphics of our municipalities : towers, keep, castles, some eagles, trees, trees and some stars. Who writes here took on the load of that "critical" inventory that led the commission not to produce a winner, to exhibit all the achievements in the State Archives (with a certain interest of investigation) and thus close, somewhat sadly , the only (unsuccessful) attempt at modernization made on that emblem.
The emblem is therefore a "sign of the times" that has raised questions about the graphic and symbolic seal. Estate that has also been the subject of discussions about the national anthem. The "constitutional" identity - which belongs, in its discontinuities, to the Republic - can also support an aesthetic that has the times, in fact, of the Republic. As for the symbols, the discussion focuses on the relevance of each of the symbols included in the emblem in the contemporary collective identity heritage. With the exception of the "star" which is an archetype of timeless luminosity, since there is no significant problem with regard to tree symbols which also have environmental continuity, only the cogwheel would remain in question (in this third millennium). The question is whether a hypothetical referendum would pass the proposal to replace it with a computer or a mobile phone. And the answer is that, if that were the case, the entire contextual implant would fall. Argument tackled with negative results in the 1986 experiment. As in the case of the words in Latin in the liturgy of the Church, symbolic inertiality still seems to prevail at the state, even if perhaps little understood.