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Musei del Duomo (Modena)

Naked Girls, Sphinxes and Dragons

Metopes in the Museo Lapidario

Modena's cathedral has two museums at the same address, renovated for the Jubilee in 2000.

The older Museo Lapidario houses one of Modena's treasures: the original eight metopes from the Duomo by the unknown 'Master of the Metopes', sculpted in the first decades of the 12th century but with an accuracy of proportions and brilliant stylization that look startlingly modern.

Originally they decorated the eight buttresses of the nave, projecting just above the cornice, where no one could really see them. The Modenese thought them important enough to move out of the rain, and they have replaced them with copies. ('Metopes' is a misnomer; that term only applies to Greek and Roman art. There is really no word for these but just 'reliefs').

The metopes are masterpieces of elegance and mystery, dream-images in a medieval vocabulary utterly lost to us, but utterly fascinating. Are they just fantasy, or is there a hidden meaning? In order of their original placement we have, on the north side, from left to right:

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Modena Museums and Galleries

Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by Sailko, GNU Free Documentation License, Unesco