Enlarge image The historical Green Vault reopened after extensive restaurations in 2006. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) From the paintings of old masters to contemporary art: Dresden’s State Art Collections are sparkling again.
In 1978, the exhibition “The Splendor of Dresden” attracted more than 600,000 visitors in Washington, DC. The baroque works of art from Dresden, which was part of the GDR before reunification, were like a message from a strange world hidden behind the Iron Curtain. The splendid city of art, its immeasurable treasures, its magnificent buildings and its picturesque position on the River Elbe had almost been forgotten. Yet, for centuries it had been a magnet for cultural tourists. When Dresden lay devastated in 1945, nobody ever believed that it could return to its former fame. So, it was a most unexpected surprise when the “Splendor of Dresden” hit the headlines of the western art world. Nevertheless, decades still had to elapse before the city could be restored to its former self.
Enlarge image A visitor looks works by German painter Georg Baselitz in the Albertinum, which reopened in 2010. (© picture alliance / ZB) Today, Dresden has returned to the big stage. And it is enjoying a great deal of attention thanks to its unique ensemble of museums: the Dresden State Art Collections, which look back on 450 years of history, are the oldest in Germany and the second largest association of museums following Berlin. Even Dresden’s local inhabitants are overwhelmed by the aura of the Albertinum which was reopened in June 2010. The show from the museum’s collections includes paintings from Caspar David Friedrich to Otto Dix, sculptures from Phidias to Rodin and contemporary art from Hermann Glöckner to Neo Rauch. At the Albertinum the architect Volker Staab has created a new centerpiece with both an elevated, flood-proof storeroom and a stunning roof covering the inner courtyard. In 2009 Peter Kulka realized a similar idea at the Renaissance Palace, when he provided one of its courtyards with a gently arched, lattice glass dome.
Enlarge image A visitor admires an Ottoman tent in the Turkish Chamber, which reopened in 2010. (© picture alliance / dpa) Kulka, who was born in Dresden, also created the design for the unique collection in the Turkish Chamber which was opened to the public in 2010. Here, fascinated visitors pass beneath two sumptuous 17th century Ottoman state tents in a magical atmosphere of semi-darkness. Richly decorated weapons, saddles and beautiful textiles represent one of the largest collections of this kind outside Turkey. The treasures resulted mainly from the passion for collecting and the desire for a magnificent display of power cultivated by the Saxon electors between the 16th and 19th century. Elector Friedrich August I (1670 - 1733) had a particular liking for exotic things. He suffered from “chronic porcelain collecting” and amassed fragile specimens from China and Japan. Now, the treasures from Asia and Europe can be seen in the porcelain collection that was recently redesigned by Peter Marino of New York.
Enlarge image Detail from the “Throne of the Great Mogul Aureng-Zeb" (© picture-alliance / ZB) In addition, a court goldsmith produced some brilliant gems of craftsmanship for the elector, such as the “Throne of the Great Mogul Aureng-Zeb,” a cabinet piece consisting of 132 jeweled figures and miniatures. This masterpiece is now on display in the Green Vault. Pearls, ivory, emeralds, corals, rubies and diamonds illustrating the “Splendor of Dresden” are on show at two places in the Royal Palace. In addition to the New Green Vault, visitors have been able to admire a faithful replica of Saxony’s historical Treasure Room since 2006. Beautiful ornaments stand proudly on gilded consoles, opulently reflected by panels of mirrors. Dresden is worth visiting, if only to view this amazing spectacle. Another “must-see” masterpiece is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna of 1513. It arrived in Dresden in 1754. This lovely lady can be admired in the Old Masters Picture Gallery.
Enlarge image Three red frames set up in Dresden enclose views once painted by famed cityscape artist Canaletto. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Dresden’s fame was also enhanced by the painter Bernardo Bellotto, better known as Canaletto. His meticulously detailed, light-filled panoramas are still reflected in the present-day city. If you walk across the August Bridge to the riverbank in Dresden-Neustadt, you can experience the famous “Canaletto view” of 1748. It’s as if time has stood still. And the view of the city center’s historical skyline makes you realize just how great this heritage is: the appealing architecture set in the harmonious river landscape documents that the Saxon electors’ vision of the “Splendor of Dresden“ still lives on today.
Written by Susanne Altmann