The Phrygian Cap

Giuditta Tavani Arquati’s father had spent much time in papal jails because he sustained the fight for the Roman Republic.  His beliefs were based on secular and republican values and it was in this kind of environment that Giuditta grew up in.

At the age of 14, Giuditta married Francesco Arquati  whom she’d met at her father’s fabric warehouse. Giuditta and Franceco shared much political complicity and both joined Garibaldi in his efforts to liberate Rome from papal rule.  In 1865, they helped organize an insurrection using the wool factory (Via della Lungaretta 97, Rome), owned by fellow patriot Giulio Ajani, as a base.  Unfortunately, a spy betrayed them and 300 zuavos (papal soldiers) arrived in Trastevere where the factory was located and began shooting indiscriminately. The c. 40 trapped patriots retaliated with the limited arms they had. Giuditta loaded rifles and threw hand bombs while encouraging her comrades with cries of “Viva Roma!”  They resisted for several hours but were overwhelmed by the zuavos.  The zuavos killed Giuditta’s husband and 12 year old son in front of her then jabbed the pregnant Giuditta as well. Her little girl, Adelaide, hid in the laundry basket and her life was saved.

The Zuavi Killed Giuditta

In 1941, all of the remains of the Risorgimento’s  Roman were transferred to the Ossuary Mausoleum of Garibaldi so Giuditta’s remains are not actually at Verano.  At Verano is a memorial chapel in her honor.

a Phrygian cap in the pediment

Aside from its ties to Giuditta, the memorial “temple”  is of  extreme interest because of its
pediment.  There’s the traditional wreath seen in cemetery art all over the world.  However, there are also two fasces crossing one another as well as a Phrygian cap.

Fasces are bundles of rods tightly wrapped around a double headed axe. And it is from fasces that the term “fascists” comes from. Although Mussolini certainly saw it as an emblem for the authority of Rome, fasces are actually of Etruscan origin.  There are many fasces decorative elements not only at Verano but all over Rome as well.

In the top center of the pediment is a Phrygian cap known in Italian as a berretto frigio and was the typical headgear of young fascists.

Phrygian Caps

The Phrygian cap has been around for a long time.  In Ancient Greece, slaves who’d been freed wore little pointed caps that in later years became confused with the Phrygian cap. The Phrygian cap was of special symbolism in the initiation rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The god Mithras wore a Phrygian cap with solar rays. Numerous artworks are shown with Phrygian caps:

Osris wore a white crown

In upper Egypt, Osiris is shown wearing a white crown that’s a kind of Phrygian cap.

the wisemen wore caps

The Three Wise Men wore Phrygian caps in Byzantine mosaics.

Phrygian Caps at St. Priscilla Catacombs

The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace, c. 280-290. Wall-painting from the Priscilla Catacomb, Rome, Fresco on wet plaster.

Probably the most well-known use of the Phrygian cap is that of Marianne, the woman who, since the French Revolution, embodies the ideals of Reason and Liberty. But the Smurfs, Santa Claus and his elves also wear Phrygian caps.

Marianne & Smurfs

In Leonard Bistolfi’s sculptural group, Sacrifice, at the Altare della Patria in Rome, a dying combatant receives a kiss from a female figure representing Freedom.

Freedom Kiss


At Verano, another example of the Phrygian cap can be found on a fresco inside the Cappella Negroni-Floquet (Rampa Caracciolo).

Giuditta Tavani Arquati’s Memoral at Verano


Related: film  In nome del Papa Re (1977) directed by Luigi Magni  +  Associazione Giuditta Tavani Arquati + VIA DELLA LUNGARETTA  + Giuditta and her  family lived in Piazza S. Rufina + “SACRIFICE” BY LEONARDO BISTOLFI: THE ETERNAL IDEALS OF ITALY’S RISORGIMENTO with Phrygian Cap + Il Museo del Risorgimento, Istituto per la Storia del Risorgimento italiano, Complesso del Vittoriano

Bibliography:  Doni, E. ecc. Donne del Risorgimento. Il Mulino. Bologna. 2011. Pp. 221-230



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This entry was posted in Drawings & Paintings, Rome/Italy, Verano Monumental Cemetery and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Phrygian Cap

  1. Pingback: Giuditta Tavani Arquati – Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome

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