Prof. Dr. Hartwig Fischer : Keepers of a unique cultural heritage – The Dresden State Art Collection

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Augustus the Strong and his son King August III were important patrons of the arts and noteworthy art connoisseurs. Their systematically created art galleries, which were already then made accessible to select circles, form the core of the ­wonderful treasures of the Dresden State Art Collections.

Dresden has achieved a great deal in the twenty-five years since German reunification. The city is almost unrecognisable. Houses, squares and entire streets have changed and the construction projects are still nowhere near complete. The biggest cultural construction site in the Free State of Saxony is still the Dresden Royal Palace. Curators of monuments, architects, craftsmen, master builders, restorers and art historians – all leaders in their disciplines – have managed to carry out great things here for decades. The Royal Palace is once again a lively place in the heart of Dresden, since the opening of the small castle court – sitting beneath a glass dome – in January 2009, visitors have been greeted with a generous entry foyer. In addition to the Green Vault, one of the richest treasuries in Europe, and the Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, the Royal Palace is the home of the collection rooms of the Armoury: an important step in the reconstruction of the Royal Palace was completed with the opening of the Giants’ Hall in February 2013. Around 350 items are laid out over 700 square metres, some in re-enacted tournament scenes. In collaboration with the architectural firm Peter Kulka, the original room di­­mensions could be replicated and a contemporary in­te­r­­pre­­tation of the historical vault was realised. The Armoury of the Dresden State Art Collections is one of the most im­­por­t­ant armoury, ceremonial weaponry and costume col­­lec­tions in the world. The Free State of Saxony helped re­­alise this venture. The Sparkasse Finance Group, the main spon­sor of the museum association, contributed active support.

The Gallery of the Electors is an elegant hall, which can also be used for presentations and event celebrations,. It islined with portraits of the state’s rulers and connects the west wing with the east wing. When one looks from the hall out over the large courtyard and onto the opposite façades, it is clear that the Royal Palace is in many locations still under construction and will undergo visible changes over the coming years.
The late medieval loop rib vault in the chapel was reconstructed based on a small number of preserved engravings and plans. This was only possible through com­­bining state-of-the-art computer technology with traditional craftsmanship. The chapel is the first room in which the technology was successfully used in the reconstruc­tion and restoration of a late Gothic arch technique. A team of architects, builders and scientists had first familiarised themselves with the required fundamentals. It is par­­ticularly pleasing that the earlier use of this space for musical performances has slowly been recaptured and it is now once again used for concerts. What’s more, the large room can be hired for corporate events.

The Dresdner Zwinger is directly next to the castle. Orig­­i­­nally planned as an orangery and then transformed into a more ceremonial piece of architecture, it now houses three museums as part of the State Art Collections Dresden: the Old Masters Picture Gallery, the Porcelain collection and the Mathematisch-Physikalische Sa­­lon (Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instru­­ments). The Old Masters Picture Gallery is probably the most famous museum in Dresden. Its worldwide fame is based on the excellent selection of major works of art. Best known is Raffael’s “Sistine Madonna”, which can look back on a 500-year history. The two “lounging” angels present in the lower margin of the picture have been used in marketing as an advertising theme around the world for nearly 200 years.

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The Porcelain Collection is the most qualitative and at the same time most comprehensive special ceramics collection in the world, not least because of its outstanding stocks of early Meissen porcelain and East Asian porcelain from the 17th and early 18th century. The internationally renowned New York designer Peter Marino rede­­signed the two arch galleries and the Tiersaal (animal hall) anew – partly according to his own imagination, partly as a new interpretation of the historical concept of the Japanese Palace’s architect Zacharias Longuelune from 1735.

A world-famous collection of historical clocks and scientific instruments is housed in the Mathematisch-Physika­lischer Salon. These include terrestrial and celes­­tial globes, fascinating optical, astronomical and geodetic de­­vices dating back as far as the 16th century, historic in­­stru­­ments for calculating, drawing and for deter­­mining lengths, masses, temperatures and air pressure. After six years of rehabilitation, restoration and extension work, it reopened its doors in April 2013 with a newly designed permanent exhibition. The Zwinger’s oldest museum is thus able to welcome visitors again. The ex­­hibition space now amounts to 1,110 square metres and thus almost twice the previous space, so that a compre­­hensive selection of approximately 3,000 objects could again be presented in a dignified setting.

Hovering above the courtyard of the Albertinum – the building for the arts of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries – is a modern-day architectural masterpiece: the flood-protected depot and workshops building. The Albertinum, a building fully refurbished and converted over the course of this construction project, is where art ranging from Romanticism to the present invites visitors to a wonderful experience. In addition, the Kunsthalle in the Lipsiusbau on Brühlsche Terrasse is in particular used for special ex­­hi­­bitions of contemporary art, including works by Sigmar Polke, Jeff Wall, Eberhard Havekost, Gerhard Richter and William Forsythe, and is equally available for guest pres­­enta­­tions of the various museums of the Dresden State Art Col­lections.

In addition to the Kunsthalle in the Lipsiusbau, the Dresden State Art Collections are using the still unrenovated rooms of the second floor in the Royal Palace – the former parade rooms of August the Strong – as a place for special exhibitions, e.g. for the exhibition series “Forschungs­­reisen im Depot” (expeditions in the depot) until mid-May 2015. The Dresden State Art Collections have invited philosopher Wolfgang Scheppe to try out new methods and formats in presenting the diversity of collections in other contexts. The new approaches in research and ex­­hibition combine non-European stocks with European collections and bring the State Ethnographic Collections in Dresden, Leipzig and Herrnhut more into with the fold of the Dresden State Art Collections. They contribute to a broadening the Eurocentric view and build a bridge between the fields of ethnography, art history, science, culture and science history. They explore the non-European art in the collections and investigate the worldwide trade and exchange paths from the 17th century onward. Focussing on the stocks of non-European cultures builds a bridge to China, Japan, India, Syria and Africa and integrates non-European perspectives. In 1560, the Saxon elector Augustus the Strong founded the Kunstkammer and laid the foundation for the magnificent collections which today, encompass fourteen museums, making it the second largest German association of museums. This includes, in addition to the aforementioned museums, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Pillnitz Castle, the Museum of Saxon Folk Art and Puppet Theatre Collection in Jägerhof, the Coin Cabinet, which opened in June 2015 in Georgenbau in the Royal Palace with a new permanent exhibition, and above all the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony. They all contribute to the unique cultural diversity of Dresden and Saxony.

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In addition to a variety of national and international cooperative efforts, the regional collaboration of scientific insti­­tutions is also a significant part of DresdenConcept. DresdenConcept, an association involving Dresden Uni­­versity of Technology together with partners from science and culture, is furthering the excellence in Dresden-based research through this cooperation of its members thereby making it more visible, so as to strengthen Saxony’s position as a scientific and expertise centre in the long term. The Dresden State Art Collections were evaluated in 2013 by the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat), the most important political advisory body of the federal and state governments on research and university issues. With the announcement of the result, the press release in January 2014 headlined: Dresden State Art Collections are world-class”.

Work on securing the future of the Art Chamber has been ongoing since its establishment more than 450 years ago.. In the next few years, all forces will continue to be needed to preserve the cultural heritage for the future and continue to focus on contemporary issues to entice future generations. The buildings of the State Art Collections Dresden offer a great setting for events. Some of the rooms are available to hire for meetings, concerts, readings, seminars, lectures, receptions and parties of all kinds.

We look forward to your visit in Dresden!

Prof. Dr. Hartwig Fischer 
The author (born 1962 in Hamburg) studied art history, history and archaeology in Bonn, Paris, Rome and Berlin and received his doctorate in 1993. Then he worked at the Kunstmuseum Bonn and from 1993 to 2000, worked as a research fellow at the Kunstmuseum Basel. In 2001, he became a conservator at the Kunstmuseum. From 2006, Fischer held the post of director at Folkwang Museum in Essen. In December 2011, he was appointed General Director of the Dresden State Art Collections.