The Green Vault at Dresden Castle

By Tracy A. Burns

Baroque to Classicist treasures in two museums

dresden-castle-green-vaultThe Historic Green Vault and the New Green Vault at Dresden’s Castle are sure to dazzle visitors with more than 4,000 works of art in both museums. Showing off treasures of bronze, silver, gold, amber, and ivory, the Historical Green Vault consists of eight rooms that are masterpieces of art themselves with lavish mirrored walls that add an exuberance and artistic dynamism to the objects shown without display cases in nine rooms. While the Historic Green Vault does not place emphasis on each individual item, the new Green Vault does just that, using a separate display case for each piece of art. In the Historic Green Vault visitors will feel they are in an ornate palace while the 12 rooms of the New Green Vault take on the appearance of a more traditional museum. It is no wonder that together these museums make up the biggest collection of treasures in Europe.

History of the Green Vault

Dresden Castle served as the residence of Saxony’s electors from 1547 to 1806. It was home to kings from 1806 to 1918. While the addition where the Green Vault is located was built in 1547, it was not until the 17th century that some of the most fascinating Baroque objects in the world were housed here.  Saxon Elector, Polish King and Grand Duke of Lithuania Frederic Augustus I, called August the Strong, even allowed the public to view his stunning collection, something that was not the norm in Baroque days. The name Green Vault came from the green malachite color of the column bases and capitals in the rooms.

Dresden Tours from Prague

World War II

At the onset of World War II, the Germans transferred the artifacts to Konigstein Fortress to keep them safe. During the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, the palace was practically destroyed – three of its eight rooms were turned to rubble.  When the war ended, the Soviets transported the objects to the USSR.

Back in Dresden

They stayed in the Soviet Union until 1958 when they were returned to Dresden. Then some of the treasures could be viewed by the public at the Albertinum Museum. The New Green Vault was not opened to the public until 2004, and the renovation of the Historic Green Vault lasted until 2006. The Historic Green Vault is designed as it looked during 1733 when August the Strong’s reign ended and his treasures were open to the public.

The Historic Green Vault

The objects in the Historic Green Vault are organized by material. The first room shows off an amber cabinet with exquisitely carved drawers. In the center, Christ languishes on the cross. A jewelry chest is decorated with exquisite gemstones on the drawers. Dramatic Roman mythological scenes take precedence in the Ivory Room, which also displays statuettes, vessels, and goblets. The White Silver Room shows off the silver table service that August the Strong had used. The gold decoration with red on the walls gives the space a luxurious and vibrant feel. Red ruby glass artworks also make an appearance.

The Hall of Treasures and more

The Pretiosa Room or Hall of Treasures, the largest room, includes masterpieces made from rock crystal. The space’s white stucco-ornamented ceiling is more than impressive. Portraits, figurines, statuettes, model ships, and vessels with rich decoration round out the artifacts in this hall. The Coat-of-Arms Room displays copper and gilded coats-of-arms of the Saxon provinces, among others. The wood paneling with gold decoration is astounding.

From Baroque jewels to Renaissance statuettes

A highlight in the Jewel Chamber is the statue of a distinguished-looking moor clad in South American Indian attire with an emerald cluster that flaunts 16 dark green emeralds. The rich jewel ornamentation is practically overwhelming. Augustus the Strong received the statue as a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. The Jewel Garnitures, the largest collection of jewels in Europe, includes a 49.7-carat diamond and a 648-carat sapphire.  The lavish, jewel-decorated “Obeliscus Augustalis,” dating from 1719 to 1721, is made up of an obelisk that is over seven feet or over two meters tall. Some 240 gemstones adorn this extravagant work of art that portrays a king surrounded by a cast of characters drawn from classical antiquity. In the Hall of Bronzes, visitors see Apollo with the six muses. The dynamic, twisting figures are clad in togas. Bronze Renaissance statuettes grace another room.

The New Green Vault

Treasures in the New Green Vault include a rolling ball clock with a figure of Saturn. The tower shows off fantasy portraits of Roman emperors while the figures representing the six liberal arts are found in the alcoves. The masterpiece is crowned by a double-headed eagle. On the face of the clock is a likeness of Emperor Rudolf II. In another display case, a pocket sundial takes the form of a book, dating from 1606. A rock crystal galley includes scenes from classical mythology and hails from the end of the 16th century.

Diana on a centaur and the ivory ship

Another intriguing object is “Automation with Diana on a Centaur. “ This zany drinking vessel could move across a table. When it was in motion, Diana and the centaur moved their eyes, the larger dog moved its head and the smaller dog jumped. A large ivory frigate supported by Neptune, god of the seas, dates from 1620. The meticulous craftsmanship includes 50 tiny ivory sailors and mainsails made from ivory. Another bizarre artifact is a skeleton made of ivory.

A golden coffee set and the adoration of the Grand Mogul

One of the highlights of the museum is “The Golden Coffee Service,” dating from 1697 to 1701, with many tiers of cups, saucers, sugar bowls, and figurines. A coffee pot in enameled gold crowns the pyramid-like piece of art. Another must-see is “The Royal Household at Delhi on the Occasion of the Birthday of Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb,” a Baroque treasure from 1701-1708. It is focused on Aureng-Zeb, the legendary ruler of the Indian subcontinent, possessing absolute power and numerous riches. The set of figures decorated with jewels consists of 4,909 diamonds, 164 emeralds, 160 rubies, a sapphire, 16 pearls, and two cameos. Exquisite figures of princes bring the respected leader gifts. Awnings and elephants make appearances, too. The gold throne is stunning. Take a close look at the attention to detail in the king’s scepter.

The green diamond

The 41-carat Dresden green diamond is the pièce de résistance of the exhibition. The large green diamond on a hat clasp got its unique green color due to exposure to radioactivity. Elector Augustus III of Poland obtained this diamond from a Dutch merchant at the Leipzig Fair in 1742.

The Turkish Chamber

The museum devoted to Ottoman weaponry displays more than 600 items. It is worth a visit, too. During the reign of Augustus the Strong, there was a fascination with the Ottomans, the Saxons’ rival who even reached the gates of Vienna in 1526. It became fashionable to have Turkish servants and to dress in Oriental attire while sipping a cup of tea or coffee. From the 16th to the 19th century, Saxon leaders collected Turkish objects with great relish. The exhibition includes a breathtaking, three-masted Ottoman tent from the 17th century. There are also Orient-style weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries as well as a colorfully decorated shield from Venice, made during the end of the 16th century.

The New Giants’ Hall

The fourth museum is in the New Giants’ Hall, which served as the banqueting hall from 1480 to 1733. It has been reconstructed in the early Baroque style. If tournament weapons and suits of armor catch your fancy, this is the place to see. Full-size figures of knights doing battle on horseback take up much of the space. Some decorative motifs on 16th-century armor included the head of Medusa, lions, scenes from antiquity, and battle scenes. The white and gold armor garniture is truly beautiful. Rapiers, daggers, and shields also make up the collection.

Practical information

It is imperative to purchase tickets for the Historic Green Vault in advance. It is possible to reserve tickets online for a specific time slot. The Historic Green Vault tends to be crowded, and the audio guide is set at a low volume. To turn the volume to its loudest, move the switch on the left-hand side. Still, it will be difficult to hear the audio guide as visitors tend to talk aloud to one another. The other museums can be entered at any time, and tickets may be purchased online or in person. These three museums are not so crowded and give visitors a chance to appreciate the works of art on display at their own pace.

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