An essential destination during the great era of the Grand Tour, at the turn of the nineteenth century Palermo was still a favoured attraction for the European aristocracy, thanks to its natural beauty, splendid monuments and mild climate.
As the last glorious era in which the city transcended the boundaries of its natural geographical isolation to compete in prestige and splendour with the greatest European capitals, the Belle Époque was one of the happiest moments of local artistic and cultural history.
During those years, the urban and suburban villas of Palermo welcomed a succession of distinguished guests and internationally renowned artists and poets. With its genius and sophistication, the climate of the Belle Époque enveloped Palermo, enlivening and transforming
the city: the new Liberty Style forms changed its appearance; music and gallantry distinguished the carriage rides along the Foro Italico; people enjoyed the sea and the sun in the marine areas of Mondello and Acquasanta; exclusive sporting and cultural circles and clubs were established, and succession of sumptuous receptions were held in honour of artists and royal guests from all over Europe.
In fin de siècle Palermo there was an atmosphere of great cultural ferment, not unlike what was happening elsewhere in Europe. Artistic vitality was inspired by the restoration of a yearned-for fabled past and characterised, firstly by the eclectic experimentations begun in the name of Revivalism, then by the full blossoming of international modernism and the expressive richness of “Art Nouveau”, which in Italy went under the name of “Stile Liberty”. The main elements were elegant, sinuous curved lines, sometimes expressed in naturalistic and stylised motifs.
It was a movement that went beyond the barriers of the old divisions between major and minor
arts to influence everything from great architecture and painting to the smallest furnishing accessories.
The numerous universal and industrial exhibitions – not least the national exhibition held in Palermo in 1891-1892 – witnessed to this vivid climate, which, particularly in the establishment of museums and private collections, represented a unique opportunity of promotion and rediscovery for the arts.
It was no coincidence that in an effort to update Italian tradition in relation to the European context, the refined production of local craft traditions was viewed with renewed interest, as an expression strongly identified with an exemplary past that was elevated to the role of a model.