The history of the emblema della Repubblica Italiana (symbol of Italy) begins in October 1946, when the government of Alcide De Gasperi appointed a special commission, chaired by Ivanoe Bonomi. Bonomi, an Italian politician and statesman, envisioned the symbol as a collaborative effort amongst his countrymen. He decided to organize a national competition, open to all, with only two design directives: include the star of Italy, "ispirazione dal senso della terra e dei comuni" (inspired by the sense of the land and the common good), and exclude any political party symbols. The first five finishers would win a prize of 10,000 lire.
The First Contest
341 candidates responded to the competition, submitting 637 black and white drawings. The five winners were invited to prepare new sketches, this time with a specific theme imposed by the Commission: "una cinta turrita che abbia forma di corona" (a city in the form of a turreted crown), surrounded by a garland of leaves of native flora. Below the main design element, the representation of the sea, at the top, the star of Italy with gold, and finally, the words Unità (unity) and Libertà (freedom).
First place was awarded to Paul Paschetto, who was awarded another 50,000 lire and given the task of preparing the final design. The Commission conveyed the updated design to the government for approval, and placed it on display with the other finalists in an exhibition in February 1947. The choice of a symbol may have seemed complete, but the goal was still far away.
The Second Contest
Paschetto's design, however, was rejected—it was actually referred to as a "tub"—and a new commission was appointed to conduct a second competition. At the same time, the commission indicated they favored a symbol linked to the concept of work.
Again Paschetto emerged victorious, even though his design was subject to further revisions by members of the Commission. Finally, the proposed design was presented to the Assemblea Costituente, where it was approved on January 31, 1948.
After other formalities were addressed and the colors agreed upon, the President of the Italian Republic, Enrico De Nicola, signed decree number 535 on May 5, 1948, giving Italy its own national symbol.
The Author of the Symbol
Paul Paschetto was born February 12, 1885, in Torre Pellice, near Torino, where he died March 9, 1963. He was a professor at the Istituto di Belle Arti in Rome from 1914 to 1948. Paschetto was a versatile artist, working in media such as block printing, graphic arts, oil painting, and frescoes. He designed, among other things, a number of francobolli (stamps), including the first issue of the Italian air mail stamp.
Interpreting the Symbol
The symbol of the Italian Republic is characterized by three elements: a star, a gear wheel, and olive and oak branches.
The olive branch symbolizes the desire for peace in the nation, both in the sense of internal harmony as well as that of international brotherhood.
The oak branch, which encircles the symbol on the right, embodies the strength and dignity of the Italian people. Both species, typical of Italy, were chosen to represent the Italian arboreal heritage.
The steel gear wheel, a symbol indicating work, is a reference to the first article of the Italian Constitution: "L'Italia è una Repubblica democratica fondata sul lavoro" (Italy is a democratic republic founded on work).
The star is one of the oldest objects of the Italian iconographic heritage and has always been associated with the personification of Italy. It was part of the iconography of the Risorgimento, and also appeared, until 1890, as the emblem of the united kingdom of Italy. The star later came to represent the Ordine della Stella d'Italia, and today is used to indicate membership in the Italian armed forces.