Monday, 23 June 2014

Dresden Zwinger Palais

Dresden certainly has beautiful museums and rich collections thanks to the Wettin Family who as  Prince Elector and Kings of Saxony through the ages collected various Art objects for their beauty, prestige and the pleasure they brought.

On this visit to Dresden, our first in 14 years, we visited again the Zwinger Palace built in 1711 by Matthaus Daniel Pöppelmann on the site of the old Fortress of Dresden, it is across the street from the Royal Palace. 

The Zwinger is a strange word in German, it actually has a military significance. It means a building usually for military use built by the City Defensive Walls, this Zwinger never had any military use and was built purely for pleasure and festivities, it did not have any residential use either. It was a place for entertainment and great festivities, dinners, balls and other State occasion when the King needed to show how magnificent his Court was to Foreing dignitaries. Somewhat like the Trianon in Versailles, la Gloriette at the Shönbrunn Palace in Vienna or the Villa Borghese in Rome. 

It like the rest of Dresden was severely damaged in the fire bombing raids of 1945, it was in a very poor state until 1990 when major reconstruction and renovation work took place. Originally the Zwinger housed the Royal collections of great masters paintings, rare Asian porcelain and other Art objects. Luckily the collections were all stored away in 1942 to avoid any damage. At the end of the war the area was overrun by Soviet troops and fell into the Soviet sphere, all of the treasures were stolen and brought back to Moscow on the orders of Stalin.

It was only after 1990 with the re-unification of Germany that Russia finally agreed to give back what had been stolen. 

What we were able to visit in 2000 was mainly the great courtyard of the Zwinger which was originally used as an Orangery and garden.  The buildings including the SemperBau were closed as they were unsafe and undergoing major repair work, still it was beautiful. 

Now restored it is even more beautiful and we marvelled at the work of the craftsmen who were able to re-create a Baroque fantasy. This means replacing the putti on the balustrade of the roof and other statues that were missing. For those who might be wondering a putto (singular) putti (plural) are not part of the 9 choirs of angels. We find them in Etruscan and Greek ancient imagery, they are secular and profane, often mischievous in the company of Bacchus, the God of Wine. The word Putto in Italian comes from the Latin Putus for boy. They are physical manifestation of invisible essences or spirits called genius or genii. They often represent Love, fertility, abundance, the Spirit of the Fruit of Life. 


It also meant replacing the 40 Meissen white porcelain bells on the glockenspiel and rebuilding the Crown Tower.

Satyrs having a good time 

Will not as a Satyr posing by the Crown Tower

Though much as been done the SemperBau which houses the old European Masters painting collection will undergo a modernisation of its engineering system so that it will be in keeping with modern museum standards in the next few years.

Semper Bau built by Gottfried Semper in 1850 see how the landscaping today is different from the photo below. The Church of St-Sophie in the background disappeared in 1945.

Photo of 1875 

Today the Swinger houses the famous State Collections of Porcelain and Mathematical and Scientific objects of the 18th Century which at the time were true marvels. August II the Strong loved those objects, he wanted to have all the latest gadgets to amuse himself and impress this guests.

In the Porcelain collection is the famous Dragoon Vases. In total some 23,000 porcelain objects are on display. It is said to be the most complete and specialised collection in the world today.  I do not doubt it, it is very impressive. It was August II the Strong who was the instigator of this great collection, exotic oriental objects were all the rage then in what was called Chinoiserie.  He loved those delicate fine porcelain so much so that in 1717 he exchanges 600 Dragoon Soldiers for 151 Lidded Porcelain Vases that belonged to Frederich Wilhelm I of Prussia. Since the soldiers were Dragoons the vases came to be know by that name.


Would you believe that this fine porcelain grouping is a table centre representing an allegory of gods and nymphs. Just the thing for the table for that weeknight supper with a few friends.

These galleries are beautifully curated and give an excellent idea of life at the Saxon Court and the accumulation madness of beautiful objects in the Age of Princes.

As you can see from the photos all items are presented with minimum barriers so that the most natural aspect can be enjoyed. Needless to say that you do not touch anything and strollers or small children are not allowed neither are back packs or bags of any kind.

This is just a small sample of what can be seen on a visit to the gallery. 

 A last reminder of what the Zwinger Palace looked like in 1945, fortunately it was restored for us to enjoy today.

And the Satyr are still dancing in the sunshine

I hope to return to Dresden in the coming years, it is truly a beautiful city and all the art collections are of the finest quality. It was the young Goethe who on his first visit to the Zwinger was enraptured by what he saw, today you can see the same thing and feel what Goethe felt amid such beauty.

1 comment:

  1. I am very fond of satyrs; I am glad to see them there representing eros.