The first floor begins by illustrating the taste for the exotic transmitted via the world’s fairs and international expositions, a taste which took hold in Italy and elsewhere in the latter half of the 19th century. Cabinet makers interpreted and expressed the desire of the newly rising bourgeoisie for an oriental ambience in their homes, especially in smoking and bed rooms. This can be seen in the monumental neo-Egyptian room created around 1890 by the Bolognese painters, Fabio and Alberto Fabbi, for the Gonzaga palace in Guastalla, near Mantua. The bed echoes the pyramids of the pharaohs while the chest of drawers offers an idealised view of the city of Niniveh. The works create an atmosphere that is every bit as seductive as it is imaginary.

Reinterpreting Islamic motifs, the Milanese furniture maker Carlo Bugatti developed a new style and quickly gained international recognition through his highly personal quest for new forms. Bugatti’s enigmatic cabinet is accompanied by a potiche by Cantagalli of Florence decorated with motifs of Persian inspiration, two flower holders designed for the Berzieri Spa in Salsomaggiore in the early 1920s by Galileo Chini, one of the most important “decorative” artists of the period, after his return from a long stay in Thailand, and a drawing of the moorish flavoured Alhambra Theatre, which Adolfo Coppedè redeveloped in Moresque style in Florence in 1919. These works contributed to create an escapist taste for the exotic which was, quite naturally, expressed principally in spaces dedicated to relaxation and pleasur