Modest Saints in Sardinian Art: the National Gallery in Cagliari

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National Gallery of Art of Cagliari, Pinacoteca Nazionale Di Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Over the years I have changed my attitude towards art quite drastically.  When I was a teenager, I loved the Old Masters, the Renaissance, and the Italian world generally.  Then I realised that I preferred the pre-Renaissance period.  That I didn’t really like Italian paintings.  That actually I prefer the works that are generally by-passed.  Yes, Titian can be amazing – but he can also be sloppy.  And the other problem with big-names is the fact that – these days especially – there’s a lot of cynical re-branding of painting: a workshop piece is now a ‘rediscovered masterpiece’ by Titian/Caravaggio/Leonardo.  Yeah right.

It’s been over 10 years since I was in Italy last, so I was interested to know what I would think of the work I saw in a gallery there.  I knew the standard in provincial Sardinia wouldn’t be the same as mainland Italy, but all the same, I thought it would be interesting.

The Gallery opened to the public in its current location in 1992, after being out of the public eye for more than a century.  The story began in 1866, after the abolition of ecclesiastical authorities kicked church paintings out of their homes and the Sardinians formed a collection of paintings from Sardinia to preserve their heritage.

The history of Sardinia is complicated, but it does link in with the paintings on show.  In the 11th century, the island was ruled by four major Judicates, that is ‘judges’ – a strange post-Byzantine creation through which these guys were basically Kings.  Anyway, in the late 12th and 13th centuries, they lost their power to foreign dynasties – namely Catalans, Genoans and Pisans.  By the early 14th century much of the South and East of Sardinia, including Cagliari, was under Pisan authority, who were themselves swiftly usurped in 1323 by the Aragonese.  The island only came under Italian rule again in 1720 when the House of Savoy took over.

This goes some way to explaining how there are so many artists with Catalan and Spanish names.  Honestly, these are also the best paintings in the collection.  Sardinia was, to put it bluntly, an artistic backwater.  These modest and often badly preserved paintings are a good reminder of the original purpose of painted altarpieces: to instruct and inform, and to stir the soul.  A magnificent altarpiece by a famous Florentine artist is not necessarily more of a pleasure to contemplate than a provincial work made by an artisan for a small parish.

So In Summary

We were the only ones in the museum when we visited.  I get why – there are no ‘big name’ artists, it’s a tiny collection, and frankly many of the paintings are awful.  However, the early paintings in particular are charming and show the cultural background of Sardinia, with the influence of Spain and mainland Italy.  You can lean on a railing in front of the altarpieces and take time to examine the details, which made us stay for longer than we might otherwise have done.  I found some of the paintings really sweet, but I think that realistically only someone who is already interested in pre-17th century art will get anything out of a visit.

Further Information

There is a fee to enter the museum, although a double ticket can be bought for both here and the National Archaeological Museum.

It’s a shame, but the information is only available in Italian.

Ditto for the website:

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.



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