Some have attributed particular values to the colours and a common interpretation is that the green represents the country's plains and the hills, white, the snow-capped Alps and red, blood spilt in the Wars of Italian Independence. A more religious interpretation is that the green represents hope, the white represents faith and the red represents charity; this references the three theological virtues.
The Cispadane Republic and the Repubblica Transpadana (Transpadane Republic), which had itself been using a vertical Italian tricolour from 1796, merged into the Repubblica Cisalpina (Cisalpine Republic) and adopted the vertical square tricolour without badge in 1798. The flag was maintained until 1802, when the Republic was renamed Repubblica Italiana (Italian Republic) and a new flag was adopted, this time with a red field carrying a green square within a white lozenge.
In 1799, the independent Repubblica di Lucca (Republic of Lucca) came under French influence and adopted as its flag a horizontal tricolour with green uppermost; this lasted until 1801. In 1805 Napoleon installed his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, as Princess of Lucca and Piombino. This affair is commemorated in the opening of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.
In the same year, after Napoleon had crowned himself first French Emperor, the Italian Republic was transformed into the Regno d'Italia, or Italico (Kingdom of Italy), under his direct rule. The flag of the Kingdom of Italy was that of the Republic in rectangular form, charged with the golden Napoleonic eagle. This remained in use until the abdication of Napoleon in 1814.
Between 1848 and 1861, a sequence of events led to the independence and unification of Italy (except for Venetia, Rome, Trento and Trieste, or Italia irredenta, which were united with the rest of Italy in 1866, 1870 and 1918 respectively); this period of Italian history is known as the Risorgimento, or resurgence. During this period, the tricolore became the symbol which united all the efforts of the Italian people towards freedom and independence.
The Italian tricolour, defaced with the Savoyan coat of arms, was first adopted as war flag by the Regno di Sardegna-Piemonte (Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont) army in 1848. In his Proclamation to the Lombard-Venetian people, Charles Albert said "… in order to show more clearly with exterior signs the commitment to Italian unification, We want that Our troops … have the Savoy shield placed on the Italian tricolour flag. As the arms, gules a cross argent, mixed with the white of the flag, it was fimbriated azure, blue being the dynastic colour.
In the same year, the Granducato di Toscana (Grand Duchy of Tuscany) became constitutional and dropped the Austrian flag, with Austria-Lorraine great coat of arms, in favour of the defaced Italian tricolour with simplified arms. It is worthy of note, however, that the arms bear the red-white-red flag of Austria, the opponent of Italian unification. In 1859, the Grand Duchy officially ceased to exist, being joined to the Duchies of Modena and Parma to form the United Provinces of Central Italy, which used the undefaced tricolour until it was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia the following year.
The flag of the Regno costituzionale delle Due Sicilie (Constitutional Kingdom of the Two Sicilies), a white field charged with the coats of arms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Two Sicilies and Granada, was modified by Ferdinand II through the addition of a red and green fimbriation. This flag lasted from 3 April 1848 until 19 May 1849. The Governo provvisorio della Sicilia (Provisional Government of Sicily), which lasted from 12 January 1848 to 15 May 1849, adopted the Italian tricolour, defaced with the trinacria, or triskelion.
In the same year, the Regno Lombardo-Veneto (Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia) revolted against the Austrian Empire in the Five Days of Milan, forming the Governo provvisorio della Lombardia (Provisional Government of Lombardy) on 22 March 1848 and Governo provvisorio di Venezia (Provisional Government of Venice), or Repubblica di San Marco, a day later. The flags they adopted marked the link to Italian independence and unification efforts; the former, the Italian tricolour undefaced and the latter, charged with the winged lion of St. Mark, from the flag of the Most Serene Republic, on a white canton. These lasted until 6 and 24 August 1849 respectively.
In 1849, the new Repubblica Romana (Roman Republic) adopted an Italian tricolour, sent from Venice, bearing the legend DIO E POPOLO in red capital letters. This lasted for four months, while the Stati Pontificii della Chiesa (Papal States of the Church) was in abeyance.
In 1860, the flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was again modified to the defaced Italian tricolour with the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies coat of arms. Adopted on 21 June 1860, this lasted until 17 March 1861, when the Two Sicilies was incorporated into the Regno d'Italia (Kingdom of Italy), after its defeat in the Expedition of the Thousand led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.
On 15 April 1861, the flag of Sardinia was declared the flag of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. This Italian tricolour, defaced with the armorial bearings of the former Royal House of Savoy was the national flag for 85 years until the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946.
The Italian tricolour was adopted in its current form on 1 January 1948, with the promulgation of the republican constitution and the end of the reign of the House of Savoy over Italy. Article 12 of the Italian Constitution, approved by the Constituent Assembly on the 22 December 1947, states:
The flag of the Republic is the Italian tricolour: green, white and red, in three vertical bands of equal dimensions.
The universally adopted ratio is 2:3, while the war flag is squared (1:1).
The Italian naval ensign comprises the national flag defaced with the arms of the Marina Militare; the Marina Mercantile (and private citizens at sea) use the civil ensign, differenced by the absence of the mural crown and the lion holding the gospel, bearing the inscription PAX TIBI MARCE EVANGELISTA MEVS, instead of a sword. The shield is quartered, symbolic of the four repubbliche marinare, or great thalassocracies, of Italy: Venice (represented by the lion passant, top left), Genoa (top right), Amalfi (bottom left), and Pisa (represented by their respective crosses); the rostrata crown was added by Admiral Cavagnari in 1939 to acknowledge the Navy's origins in ancient Rome.
Since 1914, the Italian Air Force have used a roundel of concentric rings in the colours of the tricolor as aircraft marking; substituted, from 1923 to 1943, by encircled fasces. The Frecce Tricolori, officially known as the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, is the aerobatic demonstration team.
The President of the Italian Republic has an official standard. The current version is based on the square flag of the Napoleonic Italian Republic, on a blue field, charged with the coat of arms of Italy in gold. This emblem was adopted in place of the Royal arms on 5 May 1948.
After the Republic was proclaimed, the national flag was provisionally adopted as distinguishing flag of the head of state, in place of the Royal standard. On the initiative of the Ministry of Defence, a project was prepared in 1965 to adopt a distinct flag. Opportunity suggested the most natural solution was the Italian tricolour defaced with the coat of arms; however, under conditions of poor visibility, this could easily be mistaken for the standard of the President of the United States of Mexico, which is also that country's national flag. The standard is kept in the custody of the Commander of the Reggimento Corazzieri of the Arma dei Carabinieri, along with the war flag (assigned to Regiment in 1878).
The Italian Constitution does not make provision for a Vice-President. However, separate insignia for the President of the Senate, in exercise of duties as acting head of state under Article 86, was created in 1986. This has a white square on the blue field, charged with the arms of the Republic in silver. Distinguishing insignia for former Presidents of the Republic was created in 2001; a tricolour in the style of the Presidential standard, it is emblazoned with the Cypher of Honour of the President of the Republic.
The law, implementing Article 12 of the Constitution and following of Italy's membership of the European Union, lays down the general provisions governing the use and display of the flag of the Italian Republic and the flag of the European Union (in its territory).
There are no international conventions on flying the flag, but protocol adopted by a large number of countries have such similarities as to suggest lines of commonly accepted practice. In general two areas of exposure are identified: national and international events. In both cases it is generally followed practice that national flags displayed in a group should be of equal size and each hoisted on its own flagstaff, of equal height, or on separate ropes if fixed on yardarm. The flag is flown from sunrise to sunset, except in case of bad weather; exhibition at night is permitted provided it is adequately illuminated. The flag is raised and lowered vividly and with solemnity; it is always treated with dignity and should never be allowed to touch the ground or water. Vertical hoist is transformationally identical to horizontal hoist (i.e. the flag is rotated 90 degrees).
When displayed alongside other flags, the national flag takes the position of honour; it is raised first and lowered last. Other national flags should be arranged in alphabetical order. Where two (or more than three) flags appear together, the national flag should be placed to the right (left of the observer); in a display of three flags in line, the national flag occupies the central position. The European flag is also flown from government buildings on a daily basis. In the presence of a foreign visitor belonging to a member state, this takes precedence over the Italian flag. As a sign of mourning, flags flown externally shall be lowered to half-mast; two black ribbons may be attached to those otherwise displayed.
In 2003, after 206 years of service, the authentic colours of the Italian tricolour were specified by the government, but later amended after hot debate on the chosen shades. As of 2006, the official Pantone textile colours defined by law and their rendered RGB, CMYK and hexadecimal values, are:
|Fern Green||17-6153 TC||0-141-70||100-0-100-45||#009246|
|Bright White||11-0601 TC||255-255-255||0-0-0-0||#F1F2F1|
|Flame Scarlet||18-1662 TC||210-35-44||0-100-100-00||#CE2B37|
This approach has been criticised by the Centro Italiano Studi Vessillologici as a "fundamental error.
Given the superficial similarities between the two flags, it may be surmised that the Italian flag formed the basis for the flag of Mexico differenced only in the coat of arms positioned over the white portion. However, the Italian flag actually uses lighter shades of green and red and, more importantly, the two have different aspect ratios; the Italian flag's aspect ratio is 2:3, while the Mexican flag's aspect ratio of 4:7 results in a more elongated rectangular shape.
Given its possible derivation from the French tricolour, the Italian tricolour is similar to many flags of putatively similar origins. The Italian flag is particularly similar to the flag of Ireland, which is green, white and orange (a tone very similar to the red used in the flag of Italy), but with different proportions (1:2 against 2:3) and the flag of Côte d'Ivoire, in which the colours, orange, white and green are reversed, although the proportions are the same. Confusion may also exist between the Italian flag and the flag of Hungary, which, with a 1:2 ratio, has the same colours positioned horizontally with red uppermost.