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

Spread the love

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 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.

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:

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: – 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.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.