Madonna Mia! The Queen of Pop’s Relationship with Italy

As I write this article, on the eve of Thanksgiving in America, Madonna (the singer, not the Mother of God, but we’ll get to that) is having her first out of two shows in Italy, as part of her Celebration Tour. It is always such a feast when she comes round – her Italian fans really are something else. Madonna must be one of the most famous people in the world, and the Italians are very proud to call her their own, as they rightfully should. Well, at least they’re half-right.

Which got me thinking: what a good occasion to talk about one Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone and her quite interesting relationship with Italy over the many years of her life and career! As her fans in Milan queue up outside the Forum di Assago as we speak, let’s take a look at how Madonna and Italy influenced one another, and of course to answer that age-old question: is Madonna really her real name?!

The Origins of Madonna Ciccone

You can imagine my surprise, as a longtime fan, when I first moved to Italy and I started hearing her name virtually all over town. “Madonna!” this and “Madonna!” that, everywhere I went! Turns out, the Italians just love mentioning Virgin Mary in everyday language like that, instead of mentioning God. The word “madonna” comes from Old Italian language words of ma (“my”) and donna (“lady”). Today, it is widely used in reference to Mary, mother of Jesus. She is in many street names across Il Belpaese, and can be found on top of the Duomo in Milan, for instance.

But I am here today to talk about Madonna the Queen of Pop, who was born in 1958 in Bay City, Michigan. Her family were devoted Catholics: her mother was of French-Canadian descent and her father – and this is where it gets interesting – is the son of Italian immigrants to America.

Madonna’s Italian roots go back to her paternal grandparents, Michelina Di Iulio and Gaetano Ciccone. They emigrated to America in 1919, leaving their hill village of Pacentro behind. If you go to Pacentro today, a beautiful little place in the province of L’Aquila, you can find a proper Ciccone trove! Madonna’s second cousin Amelia Vitucci still lives there; Casa Ciccone, the grandparents’ house, is still there as well.

Madonna herself never came to visit, but her relatives, as well as the Mayor himself, say she is always welcome. She did meet some of the cousins while touring in Turin, Italy in 1987. Madonna’s father, Silvio “Tony” Ciccone, did visit Pacentro and is still in touch with cousin Amelia. Madonna also donated money to help repair the town after the devastating earthquakes of 2011.

Madonna and her Italian family in Pacentro, Italy, 1987

Interestingly, although her father was Italian, it was actually her mother who was named Madonna, and who Madonna got her own name after. So, to answer that question: yes, Madonna is her real name. Her middle name Veronica was added in 1966 as a confirmation name in the Catholic Church. Madonna’s Catholic upbringing will come to become the subject of much of her artistry over the years, and will also piss off The Pope himself! Stay tuned for that story.

Italians Do It Better

Madonna’s rise to fame started in New York City in the early 1980s. After her first album, also titled “Madonna”, was released in 1983, she went on to become something of a fashion icon.

But perhaps it was her second album, “Like a Virgin”, that brought her global fame a year later. This is where we come to the music video of the same name. The music video for “Like a Virgin” was directed by Mary Lambert in Venice. Madonna is seen “dancing provocatively” while cruising the Venetian canals on a gondola and roaming the streets dressed in a wedding dress.

Madonna – Like A Virgin video, filmed in Venice

The next time there is an instant Madonna-Italy connection happened in 1986, with the iconic slogan T-shirt with the caption “Italians do it better”. Madonna wears it in her video for “Papa Don’t Preach”. Here we can also mention an interview the singer did for Le Figaro, in which she mentions her “italianity” by saying: “I talk with my hands, I cry a lot, I’m passionate, I have a bad temper and I love beautiful shoes.”

Still from "Papa Don't Preach" video, in which Madonna wears the "Italians Do It Better" t-shirt
Still from “Papa Don’t Preach” video, in which Madonna wears the “Italians Do It Better” t-shirt

In 1987 comes Madonna’s first world tour, “Who’s That Girl”, marking her first visits to Europe and to Italy. The recording of her concert in Turin, at the Stadio Comunale, was broadcast live on RaiUno. Eventually, this became the tour’s official DVD, titled “Ciao Italia: Live From Italy”. During this tour, Madonna also performed at Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence.

Interestingly, the “Ciao Italia” home video is a montage of three different shows. We have footage from Florence (where Madonna wore a gold necklace during the concert), Turin (where there was no necklace) and Yokohama, Japan. This results in a strange back and forth of Madonna’s necklace magically appearing and disappearing, as well as a supposedly Italian audience at times turning into a Japanese one.

Madonna - Ciao Italia Live From Italy 1987
Madonna – Ciao Italia Live From Italy 1987 DVD

Challenging the Catholic Church

Then came the year 1990. The great “Like a Prayer” album and the single of the same name come out. The music video comes out. Hell breaks loose.

Even if you’re not a Madonna fan, you probably know the song. You probably also know the video. Directed once more by Mary Lambert, it features, among other things, Madonna singing in front of burning crosses, and kissing a Black saint. Needless to say, the Catholic Church did not like any of this.

The Vatican itself protested, calling for a global boycott of Pepsi (who pulled their sponsorship as a result). While the video got banned on most music stations, Pope John Paul II himself encouraged fans to boycott Madonna herself of course, and her upcoming concerts in Italy. He calls them “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity”.

The concert of which The Pope, during Blond Ambition Tour, had Madonna simulate masturbation on stage.

In response, Madonna held the famous press conference at Rome airport, addressing the allegations. This footage is also featured in her documentary “Truth or Dare”.

Madonna’s speech at Rome’s Ciampino airport, 1990

There will be yet another altercation with the Pope later on, in 2006! While performing “Live To Tell”, Madonna was hanging on a giant mirrored cross wearing a crown of thorns. You guessed it – this received strong negative reactions from religious groups, in Italy and outside of it.

Madonna during her concert in Paris, France, as part of her Confessions Tour on August 31, 2006. Photo by Pascal Mannaerts via Wikimedia Commons
Madonna during her concert in Paris, France, as part of her Confessions Tour on August 31, 2006. Photo by Pascal Mannaerts via Wikimedia Commons

Most recently, Madonna caused religious controversy after appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair in Italy, Spain and France. In the pictures, she recreated scenes from The Last Supper, stepping into the role of Jesus himself. How dare she!

Madonna x Vanity Fair Italia – The Enlightenment

Mambo Italiano – Madonna and Italy

After a “controversial” start of the 1990s, Madonna came back to Italy many times, appearing at the San Remo Festival in 1995 and 1998. In 2000, she joined Raffaella Carrà on Carràmba! Che Fortuna, and in 2015 she performed on Che Tempo Che Fa on the Rai national television.

In 2002, Madonna starred alongside Adriano Giannini in the Guy Ritchie movie “Swept Away”. A remake of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 Italian film of the same name (“Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto” in Italian), the movie earned Madonna a Razzie award for worst actress. Parts of the movie were filmed in Sardinia.

In 2006, Madonna lent the song “Like a Flower” to the Italian singer Laura Pausini. Pausini rewrote the lyrics and recorded her version of the song, titled “Mi Abandon A Te”. Pausini kept parts of Madonna’s original lyrics in English during the chorus.

In September 2011, Madonna was present at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, where her movie titled “W.E.” premiered.

In 2013, Madonna attended the opening of her Hard Candy Fitness club in Rome (which has since gone defunct). That same time, she also hosted an intimate screening of “Secret Project” at the club for a select group of members, friends and fans. The 17-minute film about tolerance, freedom and love was created by Madonna and Steven Klein.

In 2015, during the Italian leg of her “MDNA Tour”, Madonna filmed the video for her single “Turn Up The Radio” on the streets of Florence, surrounded by adoring fans and attracting so much attention.

Madonna – Turn Up The Radio, filmed in Florence

Of course, we shouldn’t forget fashion! Madonna has longstanding relationships with designers such as Donatella Versace and her late brother Gianni. In 1995, she was the face of one of Gianni’s campaigns. Donatella had her appear in the 2015 spring/summer collection campaign. Madonna was also featured in Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring/Summer 2010 ads. In them, she plays an Italian housewife who washes dishes, rubs the floor clean, eats spaghetti with her hands…

Madonna for Dolce & Gabbana, 2010
Madonna for Dolce & Gabbana, 2010

Madonna would spend time in Italy on multiple private occasions over the years as well. In the last few years, she would traditionally celebrate her birthday, which is on August 16 (right during Ferragosto!), in the south of Italy. In 2022, the singer was in Sicily, while in 2021 she chose Puglia for her festivities.

As you can see, there are many, many connections between Madonna and Italy. Tonight, on November 22, as well as two days later, on November 24, Italian fans can once again attend her show. And I cannot recommend it enough. I’ve seen Madonna nine times in my life so far, and two of those shows were in Italy.

Billed as her “first greatest hits concert tour”, The Celebration Tour is actually more of an auto-biography through music, dance, and costumes. 10/10, would recommend.

If you’re seeing her in Milan, don’t forget to visit the Luigi & Iango exhibition at the Palazzo Reale, which has an entire room dedicated to The Queen of Pop.

Madonna in concert during her MDNA Tour in Milan, 2012
Madonna in concert during her MDNA Tour in Milan, 2012

The North American tour of Madonna’s Celebration Tour opens in Brooklyn, NY on December 13th, 2023, closing with a concert in Austin, TX on April 15th, 2024. For the full itinerary and tickets, go to

Angie Kordic

Visual Arts Editor

Angie Kordic is a 31-year-old Serbian based in Stockholm, Sweden. She holds a BA in Photography from the Istituto Europeo di Design from Milan, where she lived for five years. Her rich experience in the field of contemporary art includes work she did for an arts PR agency in Bari, Italy, as well as the six years she spent at Widewalls magazine, as both Junior Editor and Editor-in-Chief. Currently, she is working for a Swedish fashion corporation and does freelance writing on the side. Although she is an avid traveler, Angie's heart will always belong to Italy - perché la vita lí è semplicemente più bella.

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