NATIONAL FLAGS OF ITALY
 


 
FROM THE RENAISSANCE TO THE REPUBLIC
 

Notes
 

The national colors of Italy—green, white and red—first made their appearance at the time of the French Revolution. French armies carried the ideas of the Revolution into northern Italy, overthrowing traditional rulers and establishing various satellite republics in their place. One of these, the so-called Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy adopted a flag with vertical stripes of green, white and red. In 1802 this state was renamed the Italian Republic and adopted a different flag, though still based on the colors green, white and red. These and a number of similar flags are the ancestors of the current Italian Tricolore. But it was not until 1861 that Italy ceased to be, in Metternich's telling phrase, "a geographical expression." In that year most of the Italian peninsula was united under the House of Savoy. The national flag of the new nation was the Sardinian flag adopted in 1848: vertical stripes of green, white and red with the arms of Savoy on the white stripe. On this page are presented some of the most important of the many flags used by the Italian states on the long road to national unification.

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RENAISSANCE ITALY

 

Duchy of Savoy

 

Republic of Genoa

 

Republic of Florence

 

Duchy of Parma-Piacenza

 

Kingdom of Naples

 

Kingdom of Sicily

 

Venetian Republic

The states of medieval and Renaissance Italy flew flags that were for the most part based their coats of arms, such as that of the Duchy of Parma-Piacenza. The flag of the Duchy of Savoy, whose ruling house was eventually to assume the royal crown of a united Italy, a white cross on a red field, was also a banner of arms. Later it acquired a blue border. The arms and flag of Genoa displayed the Cross of St. George. Florence, destined to become the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, had a banner with an ornate fleur-de-lise, red on a field of white. The Kingdom of Naples, a bone of contention between France and Spain, flew a flag similar to the Banner of France during the period of Angevin rule between 1282 and 1442. The Kingdom of Sicily was part of the Crown of Aragon; its flag combined the arms of Aragon (red and gold stripes) and of the former ruling house, Hohenstaufen (black eagles). Later these two kingdoms would be united as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The flag of the Republic of Venice displayed a gold lion on a field of red.

 

THE AGE OF REVOLUTION & NAPOLEONIC ITALY

 

Cisalpine Republic  •  1798-1802

 

Italian Republic  •  1802-05

 

Republic of Lucca  •  1799-1801

 

Republic of Piedmont  •  1800-01

 

Roman Republic  •  1798-1800

 

Kingdom of Italy  •  1805-14

 

Royal Standard  •  Kingdom of Italy  •  1805-14

 

Kingdom of Naples  •  1806-08

 

Kingdom of Naples  •  1808-11

The French Revolution was a decisive event in the history of modern Italy. The invading French armies carried with them across the Alps the revolutionary concepts of nationalism and republicanism, pointing toward a day when the hodgepodge of Italian states might be united as a single country. Soon the traditional Italian states found themselves transformed into republics under French tutelage. Though these polities were short-lived, they left their mark on the political face of the peninsula. The advent of Napoleon, particularly after his assumption of the imperial crown in 1804, led to a partial restoration of the old order. The Italian Republic in northern Italy was transformed into a Kingdom of Italy in personal union with the Empire of the French. Elsewhere, the Papal States were returned for a time to the Pope and the Kingdom of Naples carried on, albeit with the French Emperor’s nominees on the throne. So far as flags were concerned, one of the earliest of the French client states, the Cisalpine Republic, adopted a green/white/red tricolor, obviously based on the French Tricolor, that was destined to become Italy’s national flag. Though the significance of the colors remains a matter of debate, they soon became the recognized national colors of Italy. Many other flags of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period either used these same colors or followed the form of the French Tricolor.

 

THE MAJOR ITALIAN STATES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY


Kingdom of Sardinia
 

State Flag •  Eighteenth Century

 

State Flag  •  Early Nineteenth Century

 

National Flag  •  1848-61

The Kingdom of Sardinia, dubbed the “Prussia of Italy” for its leading role in Italian unification, was situated in northwest Italy. In fact, the homeland of its ruling house was the Duchy of Savoy, a francophone territory. In the eighteenth century the Kingdom’s state flag was blue with the Savoy cross as a canton. Early in the nineteenth century the flag was altered to display the combined crosses of Savoy (white cross on red), Sardinia (red cross on white and Genoa (red cross on white). Finally, in 1848, in a bid for the leadership of the nationalist movement, the Sardinian flag was changed to the Tricolore with the Savoy arms on the white stripe. Twelve years later, this would become the flag of united Italy.

 

Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

 

State Flag •  1816-48 & 1849-61

 

State Flag •  1848-49

 

State Flag •  1860-61

The post-Napoleonic restoration of the Bourbon dynasty transformed the Kingdom of Naples into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Also restored was the state and royal flag used in the eighteenth century: white charged with the highly complex royal arms. Different versions of this flag existed for use on land and at sea. During the revolutionary tumult of 1948-49, the flag acquired a green/red border so as to display the colors associated with Italian nationalism. But nationalist hopes were soon dashed and the flag of 1816 was reestablished. In 1860-61, as the kingdom trembled on the brink of extinction, the Tricolore with the royal arms on the white stripe made a brief appearance, but it was suppressed when the territory of the Two Sicilies was annexed by Sardinia as part of the new Kingdom of Italy.

 

The Papal States

 

State Flag  •  Eighteenth Century

 

 

State Flags  •  Nineteenth Century


Roman Republic  •  1849-50

At the end of the eighteenth century the Papal States included most of central Italy, extending north into the Romagna, and including two small enclaves in southern Italy (plus another small enclave around Avignon in southern France). The Pope was thus one of the most important rulers in Italy. The flag of the Papal States was scarlet and yellow up to about 1808, yellow and white thereafter. A variant of the latter flag displayed the crossed keys of St. Peter under the papal tiara, similar to the current flag of the Vatican City State. In the revolutionary years 1848-50, nationalist unrest led to the establishment of a short-lived Roman Republic on the territory of the Papal States. Its flag was the Tricolore with the initials of the state within a wreath on the white stripe. Finally, in 1859-61, most of the Pope’s territory was annexed by Sardinia and became part of the new Kingdom of Italy. Only Rome and its environs remained under papal authority, supported by a French garrison. When this was withdrawn in 1870, the Italian government seized Rome, extinguishing the last vestiges of the Pope's temporal power.

 

OTHER STATES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

 

Duchy of Parma-Piacenza  •  1851-59

 

Duchy of Modena  •  State Flag  •  1830-59

 

Grand Duchy of Tuscany  •  State Flag  •  1814-59

The final flag of the Duchy of Parma-Piacenza was based on the colors, though not the design, of the ducal coat of arms. The Duchy of Modena and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany were both ruled by branches of the House of Habsburg, and the flags used by them in the nineteenth century were based on the red-white-red colors of Austria.

 

FROM KINGDOM TO REPUBLIC

 

Kingdom of Italy  •  National Flag  •  1861-1946

 

Italian Social Republic  •  National Flag  •  1943-45

 

Italian Republic  •  National Flag Since 1946

 

Italian Republic  •  Civil Ensign Since 1946

With the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the 1848 flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Tricolore with the coat of arms of Savoy on the white stripe, became the new state's national flag. As used by the Army and the Navy, the flag displayed a royal crown above the arms. It was not changed when Italy became a Fascist state in the 1920s, since the monarchy remained in place. In 1943, however, following Mussolini's ejection from power, imprisonment and rescue by the Germans, he was set up at the head of a puppet state in the north of the country, called the Italian Social Republic. Its flag was the Tricolore with a silver-gray eagle poised on a gold fasces with its wings extending into the green and red stripes. The puppet Social Republic collapsed in 1945 and the Italian monarchy came to an end in the following year. The Crown's legitimacy had been compromised by its collaboration with the Fascist regime and in a 1946 constitutional referendum the Italian people voted to transform their country into a republic. The Savoy arms were accordingly removed from the Tricolore. However, the new republic's naval ensign and civil ensign display the ancient arms of Venice, Genoa, Amalfi and Pisa in commemoration of Italy's maritime heritage.

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