Byron’s Europe: Plate 10, Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

This is the thirteenth instalment of a tour through the Illustrations to the Life and Works of Lord Byron published between 1832 and 1834.  Here we turn to plate ten which brings us into the Mediterranean at the outset of an extensive tour to the East.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy, 1832
Engraved by Edward Finden after a watercolour by William Westall
Etching and line engraving on steel, image 3 5/8 x 5 1/2 in (91 x 141 mm) on plate 7 x 9 ¼ ins (178 x 236 mm) on medium-weight, slightly textured [?machine-made] wove etching paper, slightly reddened with age, 11 ½ x 9 ins (291 x 229 mm).
Inscribed in lower margin, immediately below image left in small italic; ‘Drawn by W.Westall, A.R.A.’ and right, ‘Engraved by E. Finden.’ Titled in small open caps lower centre, ‘CAGLIARI, SARDINIA’. Publication line in small italics below, ‘London. Published July 1832 by J.Murray and Sold by C.Tilt, 86 Fleet Street.’
Published as plate 10 of volume 1 (1833) of the three-volume bound edition of ‘Finden’s Landscape and Portrait Illustrations of Lord Byron’s Life and Works’ and issued to subscribers in Part 7, no.3, 1832.

In the last instalment we left Byron in Cadiz in southern Spain. After a week there he took passage for Gibraltar on a naval frigate, HMS Hyperion. We have already heard about his stay there (see title-page vignette: Gibraltar) and on Wednesday 16 August 1809 he embarked on the packet boat Townshend for Malta.

On board, Byron was joined by John Galt, who had sailed on the packet from England. His memoirs of Byron add to the already rich documentation of the trip. 

The most vivid and direct report is that given in the diary of Bryon’s travelling companion, John Cam Hobhouse, transcribed in an excellent online scholarly edition by Peter Cochran and Byron’s correspondence is also transcribed by Peter Cochran.

[On a desktop screen images may be viewed full size. Right click on image and select ‘open in new tab’. Close tab to return to this page]

They were at sea for three full days to reach Cagliari, about half-way to Malta, arriving on Saturday night. They spent the whole day Sunday in port giving time to explore a little and see something of its society.

The engraving shows the view of the city and citadel of Cagliari from the harbour. Despite a very great deal of subsequent development, the scene is recognisable in character and in some detail today.

In the centre of the composition is the slender fourteenth-century tower of the Church of Sant Eulalia

Di Giova81 – foto personale, CC BY-SA 3.0,

To the left of that, at about the same height as the tower, is a square tower surmounted by a pyramidal roof.

Di Giova81 – foto personale, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This is a very reductive rendition of the octagonal tower and dome of the eighteenth-century Church of Sant Antonio. Higher and further left is the still well-preserved fourteenth-century Torre dell’ Elefante,

CC BY-SA 3.0,

named after its famous sculpture of an elephant. Directly above San Antonio on the crest of the hill is the early fourteenth-century Torre di San Pancrazio.

By trolvag, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This is well-rendered and distinctly recognisable today. Finally, along the crest of the hill to the right, is the west tower and central cupola of the Duomo. There is a splendid guidebook to the cathedral by Anna Palmieri Lallai including some wonderful photographs.

As this shows, the relative positions of the towers are recognisable in the engraving, but the details are, again, very poor.

I have never been to Sardinia or Cagliari. It is a sustaining thought to look forward to the possibility of travel returning. In the meantime I did find beautiful photograph by Stefano Marrocu taken from almost exactly the same spot. I hope he will not mind my linking to it here:

Explore more by Stefano Marrocu here

This illustration is the first of only two contributions by William Westall to the series.  Westall was a slightly younger contemporary of Turner, but in terms of wider travel experience by far the most senior contributor to the series. He had travelled as landscape artist on Matthew Flinders’ voyage to Australia, and took in China and India, before heading off to Jamaica, all before his thirtieth birthday. A Mediterranean subject for him seems almost domestic. Westall became an important artistic contributor to expanding Global consciousness. It is frustrating that I have been unable to locate his original watercolour so that we might see whether the inaccuracy in the details is the fault of the artist or the engraver. Edward Finden, we might observe, however, was frequently happy to sub-contract the labour of his engraving to younger and less experienced craftsmen.

Cagliari was the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia. For centuries, it was part of the Spanish empire. It became possessed of the lands of Savoy in 1720 and at its peak encompassed mainland Italy and the major territories of Savoy stretching from Turin north of the Alps as far as Chambery and almost to the gates of Geneva. The regal base was Turin, but by 1809, as a result of Napoleonic conquests, the kingdom had shrunk back to its Sardinian redoubt. The kingdom was, however, courting the support of Britain and its allies against Napoleon and could offer an important secure naval base to the British, one of a chain across the Mediterranean, and was rewarded at the conclusion of the war by the restitution of its Italian territories, augmented by the state of Genoa.

The current monarch was Victor Emmanuel I. For those impressed by such things, he was the grandson of the King of Spain and his ancestry stretched back to courts in every corner of Europe, including that of Phillip II of Spain and Queen Mary of England. Grand History coursed through his blood, and despite the shrunken state of his Kingdom, encourage in him the most imposing hauteur. In 1809 his court surrounded himself and his consort, together with three daughters,. The eldest was seventeen, and the youngest, twins aged just six. They all married to grand titles, the eldest as the Duchesses of Modena and the twins as Duchess of Parma and Empress of Austria. A fourth was born in 1812 and became Queen of the Two Sicilies. We can see the family together except for the eldest daughter who had married a few months previously, in a portrait of 1813..

By Luigi Bernero – uploaded on nl.wikipedia by Känsterle (talk · contribs) at 28 July 2004, 20:16. Filename was Portrait of King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia and his family by Luigi Bernero.jpg., Public Domain,

Byron was certainly impressed by all this. In a letter to his mother from Gibraltar he anticipated: ‘My next stage is Cagliari in Sardinia where I shall be presented to his {S} Majesty, I have a most superb uniform {as a court dress,} indispensable in travelling. –‘

As soon as they arrived they presented their credentials to the English ambassador, and received an immediate invitation for the evening. They dressed up in their uniforms on board the packet and went out for dinner at the Residence and then on to the theatre. The Royal family were there, but the King did not take his seat until the second act. The nearest Byron came to an audience was to be taken by the Ambassador to a private box where he might be better seen. Afterwards, by John Galt’s report, whilst making their way back to the ship, Byron was troubled by his limp, and seemed more than a little piqued.

So what might the reader in the 1830s have made of this subject, particularly in terms of European consciousness. Perhaps the most obvious thing to say is that it would have been an unfamiliar subject. This engraving is certainly one of the first [if not the first] to represent the subject of Cagliari to a British audience, and one of the earliest of any kind, except for a couple of seventeenth century Dutch engravings.  Even today, Sardinia hardly figures on the radar of UK travellers in Europe. And when travellers visit the Savoy Alps or Turin and hear that these were once the territories of the King of Sardinia, the whole story seems alien and preposterous. Of course all this tells us is how little we know about the history of Europe, and present events seem to suggest that we will be happy to persist in our ignorance. Lord preserve us that an interest in the workings of Europe might draw us into feeling that we ought to belong to it more firmly. So for all that, it came as a pleasant surprise to discover that Victor Emmanuel I, King of Sardinia, whom Byron would so like to have met in 1809, was a great-great grandson of Henrietta of England, the daughter of Charles 1 of England and so when Byron saw him, heir to the throne of the United Kingdom in the Jacobite line of succession.

Even better; apparently the current heir is Duke of Bavaria. Imagine the headlines in The Sun!

Next: Sicily, maybe.

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