Oh Mia Bella Madonnina

Over the centuries, Milan’s Cathedral has had to survive all sorts of perils: air raids during the war, the incipient collapse of its columns, acid rain and so forth, but today, it’s an attack by giant blue snails.

In actual fact, the snails are beneficial. The fifty gastropods will be on the Cathedral roof for just a week, from 8 to 13 October 2012. It is a contemporary art event, titled REgeneration. The name has a multiple significance: the sculptures are made of regenerated plastic, certified by a label on each snail that says “Plastic Second Life.” Each is 120 cm long, 55 cm wide and 87 cm in height, and weighs 13 kg. If you had something as large in your garden it would wreak havoc amongst your cabbages… They are blue, a colour that has long had a religious significance, used in art for the veil of Mary, Jesus’ gown, and in general to highlight the most sacred personalities in a composition. They are made by the Cracking Art group, which habitually utilizes plastic for its works. Catalytic cracking is part of the process by which plastics are manufactured from hydrocarbon. Cracking Art have often placed their colourful plastic animals in various locations including museums, supermarkets and motorways, but this is the first time that this sort of contemporary art event has been staged in the Cathedral – in this case, on the rooftop.

REgeneration also refers to the fact that the project, which will conclude with the sale of the snails, will help provide funding for the restoration of the main spire, presently encased in scaffolding. The project was organized in cooeration with Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, the company founded by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, in 1387 to finance the construction of the Cathedral – perhaps the oldest company in Europe – and now concerned principally with its maintenance. In recent years, various events have been organized in and on the Cathedral in order to raise finance, but also as a way of bringing the people of the city into closer contact with the building and increasing public awareness of the importance of preserving this amazing piece of architecture.

The main spire is particularly symbolic, with its statue of Mary right at the top, in gilded bronze, celebrated in a folk song “Oh mia bella Madunina.”

Cracking Art Group has also made a limited edition of one hundred snail sculptures on a smaller scale, 55 cm long, each weighing 3 kg. These will be sold for a minimum of €1,000 each by the Art Gallery Glauco Cavaciuti (www.glaucocavaciuti.com), with net proceeds helping to pay for the restoration work on the spire presently under way. On the opening evening, 8 October, a fundraising dinner will be held, organized by chef Gualtiero Marchesi. Yet more copies of the snails will be on sale here, and art critic Philippe Daverio will guide the guests to some less familiar artistic details of the Cathedral.

To see the snails, you just have to visit the Cathedral rooftops from 8 to 13 October. The visit is possible any day from 9 a.m to 9.30 p.m., with the last ascent beginning at 8.45 p.m. The cost is €12 by lift, €7 if you decide you can take the stairs. It’s a narrow spiral staircase, but it rewards you with spectacular views of this wonderful Gothic architecture and the sculpted decoration on all sides. The swirling leaves on the capitals and balustrades run no risk of being consumed by the snails… For further information and tickets for Duomo visits, go to the Duomo Info Point in Piazza del Duomo opposite the Arcivescovado, tel. 02 7202 3375.

Henry Neuteboom

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