From the Royal Court of Siam to Cagliari: the Stefano Cardu Collection

Museum of Siamese Art, Museo d’arte Siamese ‘Stefano Cardu’, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

In a city like Cagliari you might not expect to discover an Asian art collection, but in fact it has an excellent one: it’s small, perhaps not immediately appealing to most people (judging by the fact that we were alone in there), but it really is a delightful way to explore Eastern art.  Here’s why.

The stylish interior of the Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

The collection is actually the legacy of one man – the Sardinian architect Stefano Cardu.  He was a draughtsman for the Siamese government in 1879 and after two years he set up his own business and was involved in major projects in the country, including the palace of Prince Chaturonratsami, and the Royal Military College.  In 1900, Cardu returned to his hometown of Cagliari.  He donated his collection of treasures to the city in 1914.  The Siamese Museum opened in 1918, with all proceeds going to First World War orphans.  The current building is from 1981, and still makes for a striking space for the collection.

Cardu was a keen collector of art but he was also given items by his pal, King Rama V, and the result is a perfect, gem-like collection.  Although called the Siamese Collection, it’s actually got a more than fair representation of art and artefacts from other Asian countries.  The king seems to have generously handed over gifts that he received from foreign delegations or merchants resident in his country: for this reason the Japanese swords, for example, are of extraordinary quality. 

Much of the interest comes from the meeting of cultures and artistic traditions, as well as the often subtle differences in regional style.  I massively underestimated the amount of time I’d need in this museum, as even though the space is small, and the collection is small, so are the objects – there are so many beautifully and finely worked Buddhas and knives and swords… it really is remarkable.

Vessel, 19th century, braided rush covered in red, black and gold lacquer, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Container with lid, 19th century, Thailand, bamboo fibre and red, black and gold lacquer, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Lances, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of the lance of the Royal Guard, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Little knife with ivory handle, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia.

Double dagger in a single sheath, 19th century, Thailand, with silver and ivory handle showing Hanuman, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a lance of the Royal Guard, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a thoughtful monk from the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a monk surrounded by waves from the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a monk writing from the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail showing the layers of decoration of the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a monk with a bell from the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of two monks from the Daito sword decorated with scenes from Zen Buddhism, end of 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Daito sword decorated with images of the Imperial Dragon, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a man carrying a giant fish from the wakizashi sword, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a man carrying a plant from the wakizashi sword, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a wakizashi sword, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a scene around flowers from the wakizashi sword, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a porter from the wakizashi sword, 19th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Benjarong stemcups, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of the inside of a Benjarong stemcup, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Lai Nam Thong bowl, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a page from the Samut Thai Manuscript on medicine, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Benjarong bowl, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Benjarong bowl, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Benjarong bowl, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a page from the Samut Thai of the Life of Monk Phra Malai, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a page from the Samut Thai of the Life of Monk Phra Malai, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a page from the Samut Thai of the Life of Monk Phra Malai, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Samut Thai of the Life of Monk Phra Malai, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a page from the Samut Thai of the Life of Monk Phra Malai, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Stamp, undated, Thailand, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Stamp, undated, Thailand, gold on ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of a figure by a ship, Qing dynasty, China, lacquer and mother of pearl, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of houses and a bridge on a jewellery box, Qing dynasty, China, lacquer and mother-of-pearl, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of fish on a jewellery box, Qing dynasty, China, lacquer and mother-of-pearl, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia. Note the little swordfish at the top.

Jewellery box, Qing dynasty, China, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Jewellery box, 18th century, Japan, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Statuette of a Fisherman, 18th century, Japan, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Statuette of a peasant standing on a snake, 18th century, Japan, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Statuette of a hunter, 19th century, Japan, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Side view of the statuette of a hunter, 19th century, Japan, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Ganesh, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Guan Yu, undated, China, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Rishi with a rosary, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Articulated crab, 19th century, Japan, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Buddha in Bhumishparsamudra pose, Thailand, sandalwood base, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Buddha in the Dhyanamudra pose, Thailand, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Buddha in the Bhumishparsamudra pose, Thailand, sandalwood, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Elephant, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of bejewelled Buddha, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Bejewelled Buddha, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Angaraka, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Buddha in the Abhayamudra pose, 18th century, Burma, ivory, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Crowned Buddha, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Carafe with a lid, 16th century, China, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

 

The bridge to Sri Lanka, scene from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of the monkeys building the bridge to Sri Lanka, scene from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Hanuman and Ongkhot discover Kumphakan, scene from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Scene from the Death of Indrajit from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Scene from the Death of Indrajit from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of Indrajit injures Lak, scene from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of Indrajit injures Lak, scene from the Ramakien, 19th century, Thailand, tempera on card, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Container showing Hanuman, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of Khan-o ritual cup showing Hanuman, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Rotund cup, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Heeb Buri, cigar-carrier, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Container for betel, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of teapot, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Teapot, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Detail of Betel Tray, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Betel Tray, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Toilet pendant, 19th century, North Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Container with the dog Fo, 19th century, China, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Spittoon for betel, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Tea set, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

Tea set, 19th century, Thailand, Museum of Siamese Art, Cagliari, Sardinia

So In Summary

For me, this collection was a revelation.  Although I’m a fan of Eastern art, I’ve not really seen much from Thailand before, so it was lovely to see these works in particular.  The objects were beautiful, but what Sister Chickpea and I admired most of all was the fact that the Cardu was obviously a very smart collector.  He assembled just enough of each type of object to make you understand the genre without getting bored with the repetition.  Such thoughtful collecting is rare to see, and it’s fitting that the setting shows off its creator’s passion and intelligence.  

Further Information

There is a fee to enter the museum.

The museum is featured on a new Civic Museums of Cagliari website, though sadly it’s just in Italian at the moment: www.sistemamuseale.museicivicicagliari.it

Having said that, it’s easy to navigate and because the collection is so teeny-tiny, they have an option to do a virtual tour of the museum, and you can literally see everything.  

How To Get There

The museum is on the Citadel of Museums.  It’s easy to walk there from the old centre of Cagliari, but it is on a steep hill, so you may need a bus.  The transport website for Cagliari is not very user-friendly for the non-Italian speaker.  So, here’s the city’s official transport website: www.ctmcagliari.it – with some English information on Cagliari buses generally.  Here is a pdf of the bus map.  Now you’ve worked out what route you want to take, pop over here for a list of the bus numbers, so you can see the schedule of your bus. Yes, it’s that simple.

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