The Estense lapidary was the first public museum established in Modena. Duke Francesco IV d’Austria-Este founded the ‘Museo Lapidario Modenese’ March 31st 1828. It was modelled on illustrious examples such as the Museo Lapidario Maffeiano in Verona (1738) and the Galleria Lapidaria in the Vatican Museo Chiaramonti (1800-1823), yet with a special civic function aimed at glorifying the city’s distinguished past stretching back to its Roman origins when the city was the colony of Mutina. The original nucleus of the collection was made up of artefacts already held at the Palazzo Ducale of Modena, either purchased by the Este family from other collections of antiquities or found during excavations in the ducal territories of Brescello and Novellara. From the offset the citizens of Modena, led by representatives of the clergy and nobility, donated materials in their possession and helped finance the museum. In the space of a few years the Lapidario experienced significant growth, as confirmed by two epigraphs commemorating its benefactors (from 1828 and 1830, respectively) kept at the museum to this day. The annotated catalogue published in 1830 by the museum’s first director, Carlo Malmusi, set out the institute’s founding principles: “to serve archaeology”, “in memory of illustrious ancestors” and “for the study of the development of local sculpture”. From the beginning the museum collected more than just Roman artefacts. Indeed, it included memorial stones and tombs that had been in the parvis at the south face of the Duomo for centuries (up until the late sixteen-hundreds) and from other sacred buildings in Modena and Reggio Emilia. This practice had emerged in Bologna in the early-humanist era when monuments were built in remembrance of the citizens who had excelled in the fields of law and medicine in particular.
After the Unification of Italy, the Museo Lapidario Estense acquired more space under the direction of Arsenio Crespellani, author of the updated catalogue of 1897. Cesare Giorgi was the author of the last installation, carried out in 1938 and carefully restored at the end of the twentieth century.
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