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Ultima modifica 5 giugno 2023

Itinerant Sardinia.

A small journey through the nuragic and punic civilisations





The reason for an exhibition
Actions to protect and enhance cultural heritage derive directly from one of the fundamental principles of our constitutional charter: 'The Republic promotes the development of culture and scientific and technical research. It protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation. It also protects the environment, biodiversity and ecosystems in the interest of future generations', (Constitution of the Republic, Art. 9). The aim is to preserve the memory of the national community and its territory, promote the development of culture and hand over this priceless heritage to those who will come after us.
For this reason, after returning the Giardini Collection to its rightful owner, the State, it was decided to undertake a series of activities aimed at promoting the knowledge of the exhibits making up the collection, so as to understand their real cultural value and to be able to share these findings. Hence the idea of setting up the two exhibitions, which see in the choice of the Lombardy venues, Bellagio and Erba, a reflection of Augusto Giardini's strong bond with the Como area. The permanent exhibition at the Villa Melzi d'Eril Gardens in Bellagio (CO) is thus joined by this travelling exhibition that, from Erba, will accompany the Nuragic and Punic artefacts of the collection on their return journey to their homeland.
The exhibition's itinerary is designed to allow the visitor to learn about the different aspects that have guided the actions to protect and enhance the exhibits. After a first part that provides an understanding of how the Collection was formed and how it was subsequently acquired by the State, there follows a part in which the artefacts belonging to the Nuragic and Punic cultures are presented to the public. The laboratory analyses carried out on them, the results of which are presented here for the first time, have ascertained that, as is often the case in the field of collecting, these objects are in part authentic, in part counterfeit, but in any case very useful for understanding certain choices made by the collector. 
Alongside the exhibits in the Collection are those recovered during actual archaeological investigations conducted in important centres related to the Nuragic and Punic cultures, such as the Su Nuraxi complex in Barumini (SU), the sanctuary of Su Benatzu in Santadi (SU), the necropolis of Monte Sirai in Carbonia (SU) and that of Tuvixeddu in Cagliari. The excavation finds, together with the evocative Sardinian landscapes reproduced in the blow-ups, provide a valuable contribution in the effort to reconstruct the original contexts of provenance from which the finds in the Giardini Collection were in some way "wrested".

The Giardini Collection 
Augusto Giardini (1931-2011), a well-known textile entrepreneur, moved from Milan to Capiago Intimiano (CO) to follow his passion for golf, a sport he could play on the many courses in the area. An art lover and eclectic collector, in addition to ancient artefacts, he also kept works by modern and contemporary artists in his house, designed by architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni. 
His archaeological collection, in particular, consisted of around 120 objects from different cultural backgrounds. In 2000, the Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage of Lombardy, recognising its great scientific value, decided to bind it.
After the death of Augusto Giardini and the sale of the house, the collection was transferred to the vault of the Cassa Rurale e Artigiana di Cantù (CO). In 2021, thanks to the interest of the cultural association and the active collaboration of many people, including Augusto Giardini's heir, its recovery and valorisation became possible. Although this archaeological collection has been held by a private individual for a long time, it is state property: Italian law states that archaeological assets belong to the state unless their legitimate possession can be proven. 
The largest part of the collection is now on display in the gardens of Villa Melzi d'Eril in Bellagio (CO). About one hundred artefacts from different cultures of the ancient Mediterranean are collected there: most of the objects come from the area of present-day Apulia, but there are also Etruscan and Roman materials and artefacts from the Near East. 
The Nuragic and Punic artefacts from Sardinia, on the other hand, given their intrinsic specificity, have been separated from the rest of the collection and, thanks to the availability of the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, will be returned to their homeland, where they will finally be able to return.

Collecting and protection
Collecting is a very ancient phenomenon, which has its origins in the classical world, both Greek and Roman, and has continued to the present day. The many reasons behind it - political, religious, aesthetic, anthropological, educational - have been a reflection of the social changes that have taken place over the centuries.
The great collections that we know and that today form the main cores of the most important Italian museums have been formed since the Renaissance, when nobles and high-ranking clergymen, driven by the rediscovery of the ancient world and by their love for art, began to collect important artefacts of classical art and to commission artworks inspired by them. 
From the 18th century onwards, following political changes in most of Europe, aristocratic collecting gave way to modern bourgeois collecting on the one hand and the creation of public collections on the other. The affirmation of national identities also passed through the celebration of their own past. In this period, the states of pre-unification Italy, still wounded by the spoliations of Napoleon, began to adopt laws to protect the integrity of their cultural heritage: above all, the Edicts of Cardinal Doria Pamphilj and Cardinal Pacca, issued by the Papal States in 1802 and 1820, were the most innovative and modern regulatory instruments of the time, which immediately became models for other contemporary and future legislation. Thus, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Kingdom of Naples, for example, introduced into their laws the concept that archaeological finds were the common property of civil society. A forerunner of this new perspective was certainly the legacy of Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici, the last heir of the grand ducal branch of the lineage, who in 1737 bound the family's immense collections forever to the city of Florence, where they can still be found today at the Uffizi, "so that they might remain for the ornament of the State, for the benefit of the Public and to attract the curiosity of Foreigners".
Starting in 1902, the Italian State also began to legislate on cultural heritage, taking the pontifical laws as a model; with the Rosadi Law of 1909, it further strengthened its action to safeguard the archaeological heritage, affirming the principle that "things discovered belong to the State" (Law no. 364, Art. 15, 20 June, 1909). From that moment on, therefore, a collection can only be considered private property if its owner can prove that the finds were discovered before that date; otherwise, archaeological assets belong to the State and are inalienable.
The great attention shown by Italy towards protection is also evidenced by the establishment, as early as 1969, of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Command), a branch of the Carabinieri that specifically deals with combating the numerous crimes that are still perpetrated against our immense cultural heritage, ensuring its safety and protection.

Forgeries in collections
"If you were to put it in the ground, I am sure it would pass for antique, sending it to Rome in such a way that it would seem old, and you would get much more out of it than if you were to sell it here".
(G. Vasari, Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti fiorentino pittore, scultore et architetto)
The art market has always seen the proliferation of imitations and fakes made to fill gaps in archaeological collections. The Giardini Collection is no exception, and within it, alongside artefacts of ancient production, there are others of modern workmanship that have found a place, duly noted, in the Bellagio display.
With regard to the group of materials on display in the exhibition, the impasto pottery vases are to be considered original. They are represented by forms that are not very articulated and poorly characterised, but almost all of them are consistent, in terms of typological and technological features, with pre-protohistoric productions, including from Sardinia. On the other hand, the female stone statuette of a 'mother goddess', due to its very large size and the absence of details that instead characterise Sardinian specimens in this category, is confirmed to be a modern reproduction that does not conform to an ancient original.
For the bronze artefacts, visual examination was accompanied by XRF examinations, a non-destructive analysis technique that makes it possible to know which chemical elements make up an object: the gammata hilt dagger, the conical button with ram's head, and the archer are definitely authentic and of excellent workmanship. 
The three zoomorphic figurines depicting bovines, although they present stylistic features typical of known and well-documented Sardinian productions among the materials found in sanctuary areas, are, on the other hand, modern and probably made by the same forger, as the artificial patination methods are very similar.
The other bronze statuettes, depicting the warriors, the chieftain and the shepherd, are not only unconvincing due to decidedly incongruent descriptive details, but also present anomalies in their composition, such as large amounts of lead or zinc, and in the rendering of the surface patinas. With the exception of the three authentic bronzes, the others are excellent examples of forgeries produced by several people who employed various 'tricks of the trade' and patinas to achieve an antiqued effect on the counterfeits.
Autopsy studies and careful analysis are the best and safest methods to recognise forgeries, which sometimes even arrive in museums without being identified as such, thus polluting the knowledge of archaeologists who accustom their eyes to associating the artefacts with wrong characteristics that differ from the ancient landscape.




Sardinia has a very rich and complex history that we can reconstruct in its most ancient phases with the contribution of archaeology.
One of the most characteristic and richly documented periods is the Nuragic Age, which developed from the Middle Bronze Age and continued at least until the Early Iron Age (1700 to 730 B.C.), but which has its origins in earlier eras (pre-Nuragic age).
The monument considered representative of this civilisation, from which it also takes its name, is the nuraghe: it is a truncated cone tower building, constructed with the use of large stones, inside which are one or more overlapping chambers characterised by a typical false dome roof. The nuraghe may be a single tower or complex, with a central tower plus other surrounding towers connected by curtain walls. Around the nuraghi develop villages made of stone huts with wooden and frasche roofs.
Megalithic architecture is one of the characteristics of this civilisation, which is manifested not only in the nuraghi, but also in the sacred buildings and burial areas, such as the famous 'tombs of the giants', stone constructions used for collective burials, characterised by a floor plan in the shape of a taurine head and a long corridor. We currently know of around 7,000 nuraghi, widely spread all over the island as a means of controlling the territory, and several hundred 'tombs of the giants' and fountains or sacred wells.
The Nuragic civilisation was governed by a strongly hierarchical social structure, with warriors and priests at the top. It was based on a predominantly agricultural and pastoral economy, flanked by the exploitation of mineral resources, especially copper and lead, which were transported and traded in ingots. Navigation was important, which made Sardinia open to external commercial and cultural influxes from all over the Mediterranean, particularly from the central-eastern area. 
During the Recent and Final Bronze Age (1300-900 BC), the Nuragic civilisation reached its apogee. During this phase, many of the nuraghi expanded, as in the nuragic complex Su Nuraxi di Barumini, an archaeological site recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Economic and political contacts with coeval Mediterranean communities also intensified, in particular with Mycenaeans and Cypriots, who were interested in Sardinia's mineral resources. 
The transition from the Final Bronze to the Iron Age (10th century B.C.) is marked by profound changes, with a strong demographic increase and a new form of political organisation based on aristocracies, while the construction of new nuraghi had already ceased in the previous phase.
The Nuragic civilisation produced various forms of art, including bronze figurines and the great anthropomorphic statuary evidenced by the large stone statues found at the necropolis of Mont'e Prama (Cabras), depicting archers, warriors with sword and shield, boxers, as well as models of nuraghi and betili.

Nuraghi are the symbol of the civilisation that takes its name from them, and among other functions they certainly had the function of dwelling, but a part of the communities of this era lived in villages, of which there are over 500 known.
Nuragic villages are clusters of huts consisting of a low perimeter wall with a roof of wood or thin stone slabs leaning against a structure of beams that rested on the wall. In the centre of the rooms there was usually a hearth or a stone millstone.  
If at first (Middle Bronze Age, between 1700 and 1350 BC) the huts were also elliptical or rectangular, in some cases with an apse, in the full Nuragic phases they all acquired a circular shape and were leaning against each other.
The heyday of the villages was in the Final Bronze and Early Iron Age (between c. 1200 and 730 BC), when single huts gave way to central courtyard blocks: these were circular constructions in which there were many smaller rooms arranged radially around a small central courtyard. Within these houses, which were certainly much more articulated than the previous ones, there are the round dwellings with a central basin: these are circular spaces with a large stone basin, intended for private functions within the family, perhaps domestic cults or lustral-salutary practices.
Usually Nuragic villages are built around nuraghi, but there are many cases in which the nuraghe is not present. When the nuraghe is present, there may also be another megalithic wall, called antemurale, that surrounds and protects the main structure: in these cases, the village is partly inside, partly outside the antemurale.
From the villages comes a large number of ceramics, which allow us to reconstruct some very interesting aspects of the daily life of the Nuragic people. Above all, what emerges is the great variety of forms that ceramic vessels assumed over the centuries of the Nuragic civilisation. This remarkable variety is undoubtedly a reflection of a large number of needs in daily life and thus of a high degree of complexity in the life of the Nuragic period, both in economic and social terms.

The sphere of the sacred in the ancient world has always been one of the most interesting aspects to investigate, and at the same time one of the most fascinating. Religiosity is in fact what somehow constitutes the link between man and the deities. The Nuragic civilisation is no exception. On the contrary, it brings us back to a multiformity and multiplicity of places, rituals, and objects that appears absolutely peculiar in the panorama of the Bronze Age and especially the early Iron Age in the Mediterranean. Nuragic religiosity in the early Iron Age, starting around the 10th century B.C., is characterised by the widespread use of sanctuaries, precisely at a time when the construction of nuraghi was on the wane, a sign of significant social, political and organisational changes. 
The artefacts from the sanctuaries tell us of a profound religiosity linked to the cult of water, such as the typical pyriform vases and askoid jugs found in sacred wells, often finely decorated and intended to hold liquids (water or wine) during libation rituals.
On the one hand, the bronze artefacts testify to the particular dynamics of offering and reuse of dedicated objects in ritual terms; more often, however, we are in the presence of statuettes, weapons and other artefacts created ex novo as objects that, charged with additional symbolic value, function as indicators of social status and as mediators between mortals and the deity. 
Among the bronze artefacts dedicated in the sanctuaries, one can also admire the famous 'bronzetti', figurines depicting a variety of different subjects, which are perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the Nuragic people's devotion to the divinities. The presence of these particular votive offerings indelibly and unequivocally marks Nuragic votive contexts. Unmistakable are the warriors: the archer, the soldier armed with shield and stoccus, the warrior with two shields, are the representatives of an aristocratic elite that represents itself in this extraordinary manner. Also significant are the depictions of offerers bearing gifts to the deity, priestesses, female and male figures engaged in everyday activities, and no less than three examples depicting a mother with child: the group, a kind of Pietà ante litteram, represents a seated woman clutching her dead or sick young son. There are also numerous zoomorphic representations of sheep, cattle, deer.


During the Iron Age, Sardinia was affected by the presence of the Phoenicians (800-510 B.C.) and, from the end of the 6th century, also the Punics or Carthaginians (510-238 B.C.).
The Phoenicians, a Semitic population that occupied the coasts of Lebanon since the 3rd millennium B.C., began to frequent Sardinia as early as the end of the 12th century B.C., initially founding trading emporia along the island's coasts, which later developed into full-fledged cities.  In the first phase, goods and artefacts of oriental tradition began to circulate, together with Phoenician merchants and craftsmen. In fact, Sardinia was a nodal point along the routes that the Phoenicians travelled throughout the Mediterranean.
It was during this period that important innovations were introduced into the local culture, such as the urban model and writing. The Nuragic civilisation, in fact, was organised in villages, while it was with the Phoenicians that the first cities were founded, with urban patterns already tried and tested in the motherland and spread to other areas of the Mediterranean. The second revolutionary event was the introduction of writing, as several epigraphic documents testify, including the stele of Nora. This document, datable between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 8th century B.C., is probably the oldest written text in the western Mediterranean and contains the first written attestation of the name 'Sardinia' in the Semitic language and alphabet.
Around the middle of the 6th century BC, Sardinia came under the control of Carthage, the powerful Phoenician colony founded on the coast of Tunisia in the late 9th century BC. Unlike the Phoenician influence, which manifested itself through a cultural integration between the different communities implemented in peaceful forms, the Carthaginian presence was much more invasive, with a military intervention of conquest. With the Punic presence, the strategy of relations with the indigenous element changed and direct control of the territory and resources, particularly mining and agriculture, was preferred.
From a cultural point of view, as handicraft production also testifies, the changes were considerable and manifested themselves in the evolution of funeral rituals, in the change of ceramic production and in the transformation of commercial horizons. New artisanal categories appeared during this period, such as protomes or apotropaic masks used in funerary contexts, the production of coroplasts increased and figured funerary stelae were introduced. 
The Phoenician and Punic presence in Sardinia has also left an important testimony in jewellery of the highest quality, which flourished especially during the phase of Carthaginian domination, when jewellery and amulets in gold, silver and semiprecious stones were a constant component of funerary trousseaus.

The Semitic populations that settled in Sardinia from around 800 B.C. brought with them their own burial rituals: this is why there are ample traces of Phoenician and, above all, Punic necropolises on the island.
In the Phoenician period, primary incineration is known, directly in a pit, and secondary incineration, which took place in an open area known as the ustrinum: in the latter case, the burnt bones were collected and then deposited in a pit or in a lithic cista or in ceramic containers, such as amphorae, ollae and craters.
With the spread of Punic culture, however, the custom of burial inside rock-cut chamber tombs, typical of Carthage, became widely established.
The landscape of southern and western Sardinia is thus characterised by the presence of extensive necropolis of underground chamber tombs, in which there may have been one or two connected chambers. Access was through a vertical shaft (up to 6 m deep) or through a corridor (dromos) with steps. The walls of the tombs could be decorated with wide bands of red, and, more rarely, with drawings or sculptures.
The ritual required the deceased to be laid supine with feet facing the entrance, surrounded by the grave goods. Within a tomb, except in very rare cases, there were several depositions that followed one another in time. The deposition was certainly accompanied by a series of rituals that cannot always be documented, such as funeral lamentation. An important role was played by certain vessels that constantly appear in grave goods: the mushroom-rimmed jug was used to contain viscous substances such as balsams, perfumes or honey, with which the body of the deceased was sprinkled and perfumed; the three-rimmed jug, on the other hand, was used for washing bodies or containing other liquids, such as milk and wine, to be used in libations and for consumption by the members of the funeral procession, after having poured them into smaller vessels such as cups with a cap or with a keeled basin. The ritual use of wine, in particular, is always attested, also due to the presence in the tombs of vessels imported from the Greek or Etruscan world typically associated with aristocratic banquets.
Moreover, large amphorae were sometimes placed inside the tombs, used for the periodic pouring of alimentary liquids, a sign of a care for the deceased that lasted over time and that took the form of the periodic celebration of a veritable banquet (refrigerium) at the tombs, of which perhaps a memory remained in those parentalia that Cicero mentions when speaking of the customs of the inhabitants of Nora by now in the 1st century BC.


In this exhibition we present very ancient civilisations that were important for the history of Sardinia. We will do this thanks to the archaeological evidence that these populations left behind: in the showcases you can admire bronzetti, i.e. bronze statuettes, and ceramic vessels that give us a great deal of information on daily life in antiquity.
More or less four thousand years ago, the Nuragic civilisation arose in Sardinia. Its name derives from the nuraghi, the most important and widespread archaeological monuments throughout the island. They were large towers with a round base built several metres high with large overlapping stones. As time passed, more towers were added to the nuraghi, creating complex structures next to which often stood the villages of huts in which the population lived. Also important were the sacred areas and sanctuaries, usually related to the cult of water. From the sanctuaries come the bronze statuettes, such as those on display in the exhibition, which were donated to the deity and which represented humans, animals or objects from everyday life.
Nuragic society, led by warriors and priests, was based on agriculture and animal husbandry, but the exploitation of mineral resources and navigation was also important. Sardinia was very prosperous due to the richness of its natural resources and its geographical position in the centre of the Mediterranean. The ancient Sardinians were skilled navigators and had trade and cultural exchanges with the most important Mediterranean peoples.

The Nuragic civilisation during the Iron Age came into contact with the Phoenician civilisation. The territory inhabited by the Phoenicians was originally a strip of coastal land that today corresponds to part of Syria and Lebanon. The Phoenicians were a people of sailors and traders who sailed throughout the Mediterranean, founding cities and colonies. Sardinia was a stopover along the routes the Phoenicians travelled, and there were important contacts and an extremely peaceful coexistence between the two peoples.

Around 510 B.C. Sardinia came under the control of the Carthaginians (or Punics, as they were called in antiquity), from Carthage, a powerful Phoenician colony founded on the coast of Tunisia. The Carthaginians controlled the island until its conquest by the Romans in the 3rd century BC.  
The Phoenician-Punic influence brought profound changes to the local culture of Sardinia, with the introduction of important innovations such as cities and writing. There was also a profound evolution in handicraft production, as can be seen from the ceramic vessels on display.