In the nineteenth century, after the unification of Italy, the Italian Industrial Association promoted the creation of a Museum of Industrial Art in Milan in order to gather and preserve valuable artefacts of the past as a means of stimulating good taste and refinement in craftsmanship. Before the establishment of the Museum of Industrial Art however, Milan had an historic exhibition of industrial art, inaugurated in 1874 in the exhibition centre of the Public Gardens of Porta Venezia displaying works lent by major collectors of the time. In 1877 the building where the exhibition was held passed to the City of Milan, together with the assets of the Association, which also included a specialized library.

The following year the Museo Artistico Municipale (Municipal Museum of Art) came into being, characterised by a wide variety of genres that are exhibited by class of materials. After the restoration of the Castle by Luca Beltrami, the decision was taken to move the collection to the first floor of the Ducal courtyard. The inauguration took place on May 10, 1900.

The collection grew through private donations and purchases in the first half of the century, so that in the post-war reorganisation of the Castle museums, entrusted to Studio BBPR, the decorative arts section was moved to the second floor of the Rocchetta. Only the furniture and wood sculptures remained in the top four halls of the Ducal courtyard. The works are ordered and exhibited according to materials in homogeneous groups: textiles, clothing, ceramics, earthenware, porcelain, jewellery, ivories, bronzes, leather, glass and wrought ironwork.

A completely new gallery layout curated in 2017 by Francesca Tasso and Andrea Perin valorises each exhibit by locating it in its historical context and highlighting the masterpieces, partly through a new didactic apparatus