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The idea of the museum

From the civic dimension to the European perspective


Hall 8, which is an intersection between the artistic, archaeological and ethnological collections, presents an overview of the Museum’s growth from its founding in 1871 to the early years of the 20th century. It is during this time that the city institution assumes the particular appearance that, despite some significant changes, is still visible today in its itinerary and decor.


In the atmosphere of widespread interest in prehistory that accompanied the affirmation of Darwinian theories, in Italy as elsewhere, Giovanni Canestrini played a fundamental role. In 1863, Canestrini, a Natural History professor at the University of Modena and, along with Leonardo Salimbeni, the first Italian translator of Darwin’s work, had obtained financing from the Municipality of Modena to undertake archaeological digs in the terramare of Modena. The material that he gathered, which was exhibited at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology of 1871, represents the core of the oldest collection at the Civic Museum, whose direction would be entrusted to Carlo Boni.


In the mid-1870s, Boni inaugurates an ethnological section as a natural complement to the prehistoric collections, and later enhances it through exchanges, acquisitions and donations by Modenese explorers, which bear witness to cultures that have now disappeared or are endangered.

The last few years of the 19th century are distinguished by the figure of Arsenio Crespellani, who, following Boni’s death in 1894, directed the Museum until 1900, with particular attention to the broader context of the area around Modena, as demonstrated by his archaeological papers of the city and the surrounding area.

During this time, the Museum’s role quickly evolves from an initial project as a workshop of experience for local industry, towards a phase in which it stands out as a rich source of techniques, forms and models for the arts and craftsmanship.


The last section of the hall is dedicated to the Museum’s role in the artistic-industrial culture between 1900 and 1906, under the direction of Luigi Alberto Gandini. This period is represented by material associated with the work of craftsmen Tommaso Rinaldi (1813-1877), Felice Riccò (1817-1894) and Giovanni Spaggiari (1806-1880), who were assigned the task of representing the city of Modena in the most important national and European expositions.

The hall also houses a small gallery of paintings that includes, among others, portraits of Modenese artists and scholars and Erminia e Tancredi by Ludovico Lana (1597-1646), the most important Modenese painter of the first half of the 17th century.