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In the visual arts the European movement called "neoclassicism" began after 1765, as a reaction against both the surviving Baroque and Rococo styles, and as a desire to return to the perceived "purity" of the arts of Rome, the more vague perception ("ideal") of Ancient Greek arts, and, to a lesser extent, 16th century Renaissance Classicism.

Indoors, neoclassicism made a discovery of the genuine classic interior, inspired by the rediscoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which had started in the late 1740s, but only achieved a wide audience in the 1760s, with the first luxurious volumes of tightly controlled distribution of Le Antichità di Ercolano.

Italy's major centres of Neoclassical art and interior design were Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin and Genoa,[1] whilst Venice was far slower in adopting this new classicist fashion, and Venetian interiors were still Rococo in essence until the 1790s, when they were lightly made more simple and less flamboyant.

Although Neoclassical designs were mainly based on Roman and Renaissance architecture from Italy, and the nation was one of the founders of the style, France and England were the main stylistic leaders of the period, and by that time, Great Britain had deposed France of its position as the cultural and social leader in Europe. Giovanni Battista Piranesi's book, "Diverse Maniere d'Addornare in Cammini" illustrated how he believed Neoclassical interior design to be,[1] and were unique in Europe since they combined the classical style of Neoclassical furnishings with the flamboyancy of the Rococo, creating an elaborate, yet Classical style. His works and ideas proved highly popular in Rome, where they were used as prototypes to furnish the interiors of the Vatican, and later spread throughout the rest of the continent.[1]

Italian Neoclassical furniture was loosely based on that of Louis XVI styles, but was made unique by the usage of exaggeratedly shaped backs and necks which were recessed.[1] Armoires, or armadi made by the Venetians were more geometrically shaped than the Rococo ones, but were usually gilded in gold and silver, and had a few intricate details, such as cartouches.[1] The French encoignure cabinets also proved highly popular in Italian furniture.[1] French style secretaire writing tables were also popular in Italian furnishings, but were made uniquely Italian by adding pietra dura intricate designs on the marble slabs which covered the writing desks. Italian commodes and console tables were still relatively similar to before, yet they were more classical in style, and rather than having cabriole legs usually had elegantly decorated straight, demi-lune at most, legs.[2]

Armachairs made in Italy were based on the French Louis XVI-esque fauteils, but were made unique by adding gilded gold and many precious and exotic decorations, such as stones and jewels etc.[2] Since there was a severe shortage of high-quality woods such as walnut, most furnishings were gilded in order to cover some of the low-quality materials used.[2]