Museo Lapidario Estense

The broad arches of the quadriporticus on the ground floor of the Palazzo dei Musei house the monuments of the Este Lapidarium: a collection created by the Dukes which is now part of the Superintendency for the Historic, Artistic and Ethno-Anthropological Heritage of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

The Lapidarium, which was set up in 1828 by Francesco IV of Austria-Este, was the first museum in the city to be opened for the enjoyment of the public. The aims expounded in the catalogue drafted in 1830 by Carlo Malmusi, who was assigned to arrange the display layout, are still relevant and acceptable today: “… to serve archaeology and ancient history through marbles from Roman, and even later times, carved or with inscriptions […] to permit the recollection of our illustrious ancestors through monuments that conserve honourable memory of them […] to place before the eyes at one and the same time an image of the origins, progress and perfection of sculpture in our country, through a series of worked marbles such as these.”

The origins of the collection go back to the pieces present in the Antiquarium of Alfonso II in Ferrara and the antiquities belonging to Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi in Rome. These were then joined by other minor collections, such as that of the collector Meloni di Carpi, and, more importantly, by the innumerable archaeological finds of a monumental character discovered in Modena and the surrounding area: stelae, sarcophagi, reliefs and inscribed slabs of both public and private character, which to date represent the only evidence of the architectural fabric of the ancient colony. These pieces include the series of marble sarcophagi produced in Ravenna between the second and third century AD featuring portraits and figured scenes.

The prestigious value of these monuments persisted up to the seventeenth century, as documented by the phenomenon of the reuse or reproposal of such monumental models by the eminent noble dynasties of Modena. The Roman section therefore leads into the mediaeval and modern display, merging uninterruptedly with it. Through the gallery of monuments erected by Modena notables, and moved here from the Duomo and the main city churches for conservation reasons, the visitor is offered insights into the history of the city between the Middle Ages and the eighteenth century through the forms of the sophisticated local figurative culture.

The structural renovation of the ground floor of the Palazzo dei Musei conducted in recent years has also involved the Este Lapidarium, including the restoration of the works and the reproposal of the historic layout completed by non-invasive descriptive panels.

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