The area was a Dominican monastery and the seat of the Court of the Inquisition (from the XIII to the XVIII century). It was totally renewed by Duke Ercole III in 1784, to become Accademia Atestina di Belle Arti, projected by Giuseppe Maria Soli and Pietro Termanini. Here, architects and artists were continuously educated and contributed immensely to the beauty of Modena.
The plaque on the facade celebrates the establishment of the school; the relief on the top represents the arts; the tympanum has Roman and Modenese emblems. In the centre of the portico, the statue of Saturn devouring his sons comes form Villa d’Este in Tivoli. Its base says: «Quicquis est temporis studiis proferamus» (in latin “Let dedicate all the time to studies”).
In the interior are pleasant frescoed rooms, a Statue Gallery and a semicircular courtyard called ‘Esedra’. Thanks to Ercole III, for many years, a legend said that the famous painter Correggio’s skull was buried here.
On the other side of via Sgarzeria (on the left of the palace), there is the church of the Dominican Nuns, rebuilt in 1847 in the Neoclassical style.