The Palazzo dei Musei

The Palazzo dei Musei


The Royal Estense Gallery was established in 1854 in the Palazzo Ducale at the behest of Francis V of Austria-Este, who, in 1859, left the Este state overwhelmed by the events of the Risorgimento. In 1868 the Duke handed over his rich collection to the city of Modena, which was called upon to take custody of it and guarantee its public use. The Palazzo Ducale was destined to house the Military academy and the Gallery, which had been assigned to the Italian Government, was transferred in 1894 to its current location in the Palazzo dei Musei. Located on the fourth floor, the exhibition is divided into four halls and eighteen smaller rooms in which the artistic heritage accumulated by the Dukes of Este since the glorious years of the Ferrara seigneury is exhibited. Expression of aristocratic collecting and multiple interests, the collections include a rich picture gallery, marble and terracotta sculptures, a collection of antiquities, with works from the main cultures of ancient times, refined objects of applied art, including bronzes, ivories, majolica and musical instruments. The most important works include: the oval paintings of mythological figures painted by the Carracci for the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, the cycle dedicated to Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Tintoretto, the Portrait of Francesco I of Este by Velázquez and the bust of the Duke himself sculpted by Bernini, the Triptych by El Greco, Venus, Cupid and Mars by Guercino, the Crucifix by Guido Reni.


The first public museum in Modena, commissioned by Francis IV of Austria-Este in 1828, it immediately became a place of heritage and knowledge, aimed at glorifying the city’s illustrious past. The works date from antiquity to the Renaissance and modern times. In addition to sarcophagi, stelae, reliefs, milestones and epigraphs from the Roman age of the colony of Mutina, it houses funerary monuments dedicated to illustrious Modenesescholars in the fields of law and medicine, previously placed around the Duomo or in other sacred buildings.


It preserves the library collection of the Este family, which was established in Ferrara in the fourteenth century. It became an important humanistic library with the Marquis Nicholas III and continued to expand throughout the Renaissance period. Rich in literary, historical and artistic works, it includes valuable manuscripts, such as the famous Bible of Borso d’Este, and significant printed editions. In 1598, the Library followed the dynasty during the transfer of the capital from Ferrara to Modena. In the following centuries, it increased its collections thanks to the commitment of famous librarians such as Ludovico Antonio Muratori and Girolamo Tiraboschi. In 1995, the Estense Library merged with the University Library and since 2015 it has been part of the Estensi Galleries.


The existence of the Archive is linked to the very birth of the Municipality. The first mention dates to 1306, when the Town Hall was stormed during a popular revolt, and the public documents were almost completely destroyed. Housed in the Ghirlandina tower, and later in the Town Hall, it was transferred to Palazzo dei Musei in 1888, where one may still admire part of the original nineteenth-century layout. It preserves an impressive amount of documents that attest to the numerous functions carried out by the Municipality over almost nine hundred years of life, to which are added numerous archives of other bodies, institutes, associations or private individuals, such as those of the guilds of arts and crafts: a precious source for reconstructing the history of Modena and its territory. Above all, the Archive is a constantly growing organism, which continues to store documentation destined to settle there and take on historical value, thus contributing to building, preserving and transmitting the individual and collective memory of the community for future generations. Its plentiful library includes city chronicles, manuscripts by the writer and poet Alessandro Tassoni (1565-1635), poems by Tarquinia Molza, composer, musician and poet (1542 1617), letters from illustrious personalities such as Borso and Lionello d’Este, Lucrezia Borgia, Francesco Guicciardini and the autographs of several protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento.


The first civic library in Modena, it was established in 1872 thanks to the bequest of the Modenese architect Luigi Poletti (1792-1869), who wished to donate a public library for the study of art and architecture to the city. Initially housed in several rooms of the Town Hall, it was moved to its current location in 1882. Today, a century and a half later, the Library remains faithful to its initial vocation and boasts a rich and diversified heritage ranging from the ancient to the contemporary. Other bequests, gifts and deposits have contributed to increasing the historical collection, but it was above all the will to develop the collections in a modern and contemporary key that marked the pace of this institution. In line with the direction traced by its founder, in the last two decades it has set up a special fund dedicated to Art Books, which includes unique pieces and rarities, such as some now unobtainable works by important artists of the neo-avant garde. A specific section on Street Art and Writing has also been created and the Library has welcomed the
donation of several documentary funds, including several professional archives of twentieth-century architects, originally from Modena or linked to its urban growth.


The Civic Museum has always been the custodian of Modena’s cultural identity and was founded in 1871. Initially housed in two rooms of the Town Hall, it was moved to its current location in 1886. Important archaeological remains of the area, such as the terramare, Bronze Age villages, are flanked by ethnographic collections that provide valuable data to understand ancient prehistoric societies. At the same time, the museum’s industrial vocation emerges, in tune with the context of major exhibitions that have given rise to other important European museums, with an increasingly marked interest in the art field. Over time, the Museum’s collections have been constantly enriched, thanks to donations from citizens, and archaeological finds from excavations conducted both in the city and in the surrounding area. Reorganized in 1990 to a design that preserved and enhanced the furnishings and the nineteenth-century serial pattern, in the following years, it expanded its exhibition spaces on the ground floor with the Roman Lapidary and the Giuseppe Graziosi Plaster cast Gallery. The itinerary presents the collections of arts and crafts, including musical and scientific instruments, ceramics, weapons, textiles and archaeological collections that narrate 300,000 years of history as well as ethnographic collections. The Museum also includes areas for temporary exhibitions, where it constantly renews its interaction with the public, drawing on the rich heritage of its deposits.


It presents the main monumental testimonies of the necropolis of Mutina that came to light after the Second World War. The monuments on display demonstrate the wealth achieved by the city in Roman times, defined by Cicero as splendidissima or most splendid. The ancient inscriptions paint a picture of the variegated social fabric of Mutina. The exhibition presents the monuments organized in groups that refer to the necropolises of the late Republican and Imperial ages that developed along the main access roads to the city. From the East Via Emilia is both the frieze with a procession of gods and sea monsters, which was part of a funerary monument with an aedicule, and the monumental funerary altar of Vetilia Egloge.


It was established in 1984 thanks to the donation of plastic, pictorial and graphic works by the artist Giuseppe Graziosi (1879-1942) by his heirs. The works on display in the current location, created in 1994, allow us to retrace the most important phases of his multifaceted artistic career, from his initial adherence to the themes of social realism to the expressive research inspired by Rodin’s work, up to his profound interest in the life and characters of the peasant world. The collection, organized in drawers that may be consulted, includes drawings and prints that testify to the artist’s tireless desire to experiment with all his expressive potential. The Plaster cast Gallery is the ideal starting point of an itinerary that includes the many works of the artist in the city.

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