One of the city's most beautiful buildings is an outstanding example of neoclassical architecture, built between 1790 and 1796 as a residence for a member of the Belgioioso family. It later became known as the Villa Reale (royal) when it was donated to Napoleon, who lived here briefly with Empress Josephine. Its origins as a residence are reflected in the elegance of its proportions and its private garden behind. The museum provides a unique glimpse of the splendors hiding behind Milan's discreet and often stern facades.
The collection derives from private donations from Milan's hereditary and commercial aristocracies and includes the collection left by prominent painter and sculptor Marino Marini. The immense Quarto Stato (Fourth Estate) is at the top of the grand staircase. Completed in 1901 by Pellizza da Volpedo, this painting of striking workers is an icon of 20th-century Italian art and labor history, and as such it has been satirized almost as much as the Mona Lisa.