Italy supports women empowerment through monuments and sculptures

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Italy is known for its monuments and statues which celebrate the achievements of distinguished people. These artistic marvels are an important part of each city since they are usually positioned on a square which traditionally represents the center of the city. 

Recently, a debate sprung up regarding representation of women through sculptures and statues on these same squares. A survey, done by a group of cultural experts “Mi Riconosci”, presented a basis for this debate. Out of many monuments located on main and secondary squares, there are only 148 ones dedicated to women.

This research also found out and categorized reasons and fields in which women were celebrated through sculptures. They found out that most of the statues are there to celebrate them as mothers, wives, religious figures or workers and laborers. In addition to this, throughout the research, they found out that only a third of these statues were located on main squares.

Now, after the critics pointed this out, many initiatives from local governments started reconsidering their take on this matter. The first city to respond to this was Milan, which was in a peculiar situation. When this whole debate started, the city of Milan did not have any single statue of women in squares.

Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala was a primary supporter of the idea to commemorate the importance of Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, an important journalist active during the unification of Italy. Her statue was constructed and is now located between Vittorio Emanuele Gallery and La Scala Opera House. 

Second important initiative came from Padua, where two council members, Simone Pillitteri and Margherita Colonnello are advocating for the construction of a statue dedicated to Elena Cornaro Piscopia. She was the first woman ever to achieve the rank of PhD in philosophy, when she studied in University of Padua in 1678. The two councilors are fighting for her to stand among 78 statues, all depicting men, in Prato della Valle. 

Before the Napoleonic wars, there were 10 more statues on this square, all dedicated to Venetian doges. They were destroyed during the war,s but 8 of them were replaced over the years with obelisks. Only two of them remained vacant and councilors Colonnello and Pillitteri saw an opportunity for one of these spots to be appointed for the aforementioned statue.

As part of these initiatives, there are talks about how exactly women should be depicted. Until now, it was common and rather normal for these types of statues to be heavily sexualised, which is certainly a wrong take. Through sexualising sculptures and monuments, as the research shows, sculptures are not representing an aspect they should be showing. Many of these women were freedom fighters, activists and similar important historical roles, which are overshadowed. In order to break this trend, statues in Milan took a more modest approach to the body itself: more focus is on body language in order to present its true intention.

This movement presents a prime opportunity for further empowerment of women in Italian society. It could present a firm basis on which all other attempts to promote women and their position in this country can be built upon. Through work of local government and non-government organizations, Milan and hopefully Padua soon will be leaders in this process. (photo credit: Gustav Hofer)