The Grünes Gewölbe (English: Green Vault) in Dresden is a unique historic museum that contains the largest collection of treasures in Europe. Founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723, it features a rich variety of exhibits from the Baroque to Classicism. It is named after the formerly malachite green painted column bases and capitals of the initial rooms. It has some claim to be the oldest museum in the world; it is older than the British Museum founded in 1759, but the Vatican Museums date their foundation to the public display of the newly-excavated Laocoön group in 1506.
After the destruction of the Second World War, the Grünes Gewölbe has been completely reconstructed. Today, its treasures are shown in two exhibitions: The Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) is famous for its splendors of the historic treasure chamber as it existed in 1733, while the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) focuses the attention on each individual object in neutral rooms.
The history of the "Green Vault" goes back to the year 1547, when elector Moritz of Saxony initiated the building of an additional west wing to the palace. Four of the new rooms on the first floor were given elaborate, molded plaster ceilings. The column bases and their capitals were painted with a characteristic bluish-green paint. Due to this color, the rooms were soon known as the "Green Vault", and the name has endured. The official name of the suite of rooms, which was protected against fire and robbery by thick walls, iron shutters and doors, was "Privy Repository" (Geheime Verwahrung).
Between 1723 and 1729, the elector Frederic Augustus I, today known as Augustus the Strong, turned the once private chambers into a public museum. First, he commanded splendid rooms to be created in which to display his collection. The Pretiosensaal (Hall of Treasures) and the Eckkabinett (Corner Cabinet) were listed as completed in the inventory of 1725; they reached their present-day form in this construction phase. An extension followed in 1727. Augustus’ intentions have been preserved on a ground plan from 1727 on which he drew his ideas. As in the first construction phase, the architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann planned and built a museum-like, artistic structure of German Baroque grandeur. A suite of eight interconnecting rooms was constructed whose architectural beauty complemented the abundance and quality of the priceless treasures. Augustus the Strong could now exhibit his entire collection of valuables, including bronze statues and works of art in silver, gold, amber and ivory. The sequence of rooms was deliberately staged, presenting the objects according to their materials. By the end of his almost four-decade-long reign in 1733, Augustus the Strong had made his crown treasures and his inherited riches accessible to the public – an unprecedented innovation in the Baroque period.
The Green Vault was severely damaged in the February 13, 1945 bombing of Dresden in World War II. Three of the eight rooms were totally destroyed. At the end of the war in 1945, the treasures were confiscated by the Red Army and transported to the Soviet Union. After their return to Dresden in 1958, part of the collection was displayed at the Albertinum.
In 2004, the Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault) was opened on the second floor of the rebuilt Dresden castle. Its modern style of presentation centers on the works of art. In 2006, the reconstructed Historisches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault) was reopened in the magnificent suite of rooms on the first floor as it had existed in 1733 at the time of its founder's death.
The whole collection consists of more than 4,000 pieces, with almost 1,100 in the New Green Vault and about 3,000 shown in the original Historic Green Vault.
The Historic Green Vault is located on the first floor of the Dresden Castle and the New Green Vault on the second floor, each covering approximately 2,000 square metres. The Historic Green Vault is famous for the splendors of the treasure chamber, in itself a baroque work of art, while the more modern New Green Vault focuses the attention on each individual object.
Entrance to the Historic Green Vault requires advance purchase of tickets for a specific entry time slot. A limited number of tickets is also sold every morning. The New Green Vault can be visited at any time.
Historic Green Vault
The Historic Green Vault has on display approximately 3,000 masterpieces of jewelry and the goldsmith's art, as well as precious objects made of amber and ivory. Gemstone vessels and elegant bronze statuettes are presented without showcases in front of ornate mirrored display walls.
With these treasure chambers, Augustus the Strong realised his vision of a Baroque Gesamtkunstwerk (synthesis of the arts) as an expression of wealth and absolutist power. He presented his treasures to a select public, thus establishing the Green Vault as one of Europe's oldest museums.
The Historic Green Vault consists of 9 rooms and one entrance chamber:
- The Vorgewölbe (Entrance Chamber, Foyer) with Martin Luther-Kabinett: collection of Schatzkunst of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance and enamel works from Limoges; photographs depicting the pre-war condition of the Green Vault.
- The Bernsteinkabinett (Amber Cabinet): artworks made of amber.
- The Elfenbeinzimmer (Ivory Room): great variety of carved art pieces and small statues, all made from real ivory.
- The Weißsilberzimmer (Silver Room or White Silver Room): silver artworks, including silver table service of Augustus the Strong.
- The Silbervergoldete Zimmer (Silver Gilt Room): gilded silver as well as gold drinking vessels and works of art.
- The Pretiosensaal (Pretiosa Room or Hall of Treasures): largest room, completely mirrored; most of the mirrors are silvered with mercury. Contains vessels made of colored gems and amber, mussels and ostrich eggs. Also on display is a collection of artworks made from rock crystal.
- The Wappenzimmer (Coats of Arms Room, Heraldry Room): copper and gilded coats of arms of the Saxon provinces, the Polish state coat of arms and the initial plates of the House of Wettin electorates.
- The Juwelenzimmer (Jewel Chamber): crown jewels of the Saxon-Polish royalty and rings, chains, medallions and gems. Contains also the statue "Moor with Emerald Cluster", the "Jewel Garniture" and the "Obeliscus Augustalis".
- The Bronzezimmer (Bronze Room): so named for the numerous Renaissance bronze statues as well as for contemporary bronze figures and figure groups.
- The Raum der Renaissancebronzen (Room of Renaissance Bronzes).
One of the most important statues in the collection is the "Moor with Emerald Cluster" (Mohr mit Smaragdstufe; also known as "Moor with Emerald Plate" or "Moor with Platter of Emeralds"). It was manufactured by the royal goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger together with Balthasar Permoser, probably in 1724. The statue is 63.8 centimetres (2.09 feet) high and richly decorated with jewels. It was created because Augustus the Strong wanted to exhibit a precious emerald cluster, studded with 16 dark green emeralds, in his new Schatzkammer museum. This "miracle of nature", which originally came from a Colombian mine, was given to Elector Augustus by Emperor Rudolf II as a gift in 1581. The "moor" is actually an elegantly dressed South American Indian, who presents the Colombian emerald cluster on a tray of tortoiseshell.
The Jewel Garnitures (Juwelen-Garnituren) constitute the largest collection of jewels in Europe. They represented the monarchs' claim of absolute power. Here, the "Dresden White" or "Saxon White" (Sächsische Weiße), a 49.71-carat (9.942 g) carat cushion-shaped diamond, is on display. Also unique is a 648-carat (129.6 g) sapphire, a present from czar Peter I of Russia.
The jewel-studded obelisk Obeliscus Augustalis was made by Johann Melchior Dinglinger in 1719–21. The 2.28 metres (7.5 feet) high obelisk with 240 stones and figures was acquired by Augustus the Strong directly from Dinglinger's workshop. This cabinet piece, conceived as an indoor monument, shows a portrait of Augustus the Strong at the centre of the monument. He is presented as a king revered by peoples from classical antiquity, as becomes obvious by the cameos of famous men and women from this classical period skillfully carved on the shaft of the obelisk.
New Green Vault
The New Green Vault complements the Historic Green Vault. It contains the unique works of the royal goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger and other outstanding works of Baroque jewelry. The almost 1,100 masterpieces are presented in neutral rooms to focus attention on the objects themselves.
The New Green Vault consists of 12 rooms:
- Saal der Kunststücke (Hall of Works of Art): Treasures from the second half of the 16th century, such as "Drinking Vessel in the Shape of Daphne".
- Mikro-Kabinett (Micro Cabinet): Masterpieces of micro-carving, such as the "Cherry Stone With 185 Carved Faces".
- Kristall-Kabinett (Crystal Cabinet): Pieces made of rock crystal, such as a rock crystal galley with scenes from classical mythology that accompanied Augustus the Strong on the journey to his coronation in Poland.
- Erster Raum des Kurfürsten (First Elector's Room): Treasures from the first half of the 17th century, such as the "Large Ivory Frigate Supported by Neptune".
- Zweiter Raum des Kurfürsten (Second Elector's Room): Treasures from the second half of the 17th century, such as table clocks and rock crystal pitchers.
- Raum der königlichen Pretiosen (Room of Royal Precious Objects): Ivory and pearl pieces, clocks and watches, such as "Nautilus Goblet With Venus" ("Venus Bowl").
- Dinglinger-Saal (Dinglinger Hall): Pieces made by court goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger, such as the "Golden Coffee Service", the "The Royal Household at Delhi on the Occasion of the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb", and the "Bath of Diana".
- Email-Kabinett (Enamel Cabinet): Painted enamels and a large enamel painting depicting Cleopatra's Feast.
- Raum der reisenden Pretiosen (Travelling Treasures Room): Historical cases for the transport of masterpieces; they were shaped in such a way that the objects they were intended to hold fitted exactly.
- Neuber-Raum (Neuber Room): Contains masterpieces of Johann Christian Neuber, such as the fragments of a decorative fireplace.
- Sponsel-Raum (Sponsel Room): Special exhibition room.
- Watzdorf-Kabinett (Watzdorf Cabinet): Hat clasp decorated with the "Dresden Green Diamond", the only large naturally green diamond that has ever been found.
The "Cherry Stone with 185 Carved Faces" was created before 1589 by an unknown artist, probably using a magnifying glass. Actually, 113 faces can be distinguished on this cherry pit, which is integrated into an earring. This tiny work of art was given as a present to Elector Christian I of Saxony in 1589.
The "Large Ivory Frigate Supported by Neptune" was the last work of Jacob Zeller. It was completed in the summer of 1620, a few months before his death. The frigate, with a crew of almost 50 tiny sailors made of ivory, is supported by the god of the seas. One of the mainsails, also made of extremely thin ivory, displays the coat of arms of elector Johann Georg I and his wife Magdalene Sibylle.
The "Golden Coffee Service" presents the cups and saucers and sugar bowls on an elaborate pyramidal etagère surmounted by the coffeepot, all in enameled gold, a cabinet piece unique in Europe. Here, Dinglinger masterfully combines the most diverse artistic forms to produce an avantgarde work of art which can be regarded as one of the first manifestations of the fashion for chinoiserie. Augustus took the recently completed ensemble with him to Warsaw at Christmas 1701, to dazzle the nobles of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, of which he was the nominal ruler.
"The Royal Household at Delhi on the Occasion of the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb" represents the idea of European monarchs about Arab palaces in India. The Grand Mogul embodies the dream of absolute power and immeasurable riches, which for Augustus the Strong was under serious threat at least for a time due to setbacks in the Nordic Wars. This masterpiece of European jewelers’ art comprises 4,909 diamonds, 164 emeralds, 160 rubies, a sapphire, 16 pearls and two cameos. It was created by the royal goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger, his brothers and others, between 1701 and 1708. The elector paid almost 60,000 talers for it, more than he did for the construction of Moritzburg Castle.
The "Bath of Diana" (or "Diana Bathing") was Dinglinger's favorite work: the goddess Diana, carved out of ivory, is seated at the edge of a chalcedony bowl in a filigree that is supported between the horns of a stag's head. Two dolphins spew water into the bowl for her bath. A pearl is suspended in place of the shaft, while the bowl seems to float on the tips of the stag's antlers. This masterpiece depicts the mythological scene in which the unapproachable Diana changes the hunter Actaeon into a deer and has him torn to pieces by his own dogs for having watched her bathing. The base of the piece presents the forest floor, upon which lies the head of the stag Actaeon, with the dogs falling ravenously upon it. The inscription picked out in diamonds on the rim of the base reads, "DISCRETION SERT EFFRONTERIE PERD" ("Discretion is laudable, indiscretion unwise").
The 41-carat (8.2 g) "Dresden Green Diamond" is the most valuable diamond in the whole Green Vault. The stone's unique green color is due to natural exposure to radioactive materials. It was acquired by Augustus III of Poland from a Dutch merchant in 1742 at the Leipzig Fair. Augustus ordered his "house diamond" to be mounted into a decorative badge of the Golden Fleece. His grandson Frederick Augustus I of Saxony commissioned the Dresden court jeweler Diesbach to alter it radically. The framed diamond was incorporated into an extremely valuable hat ornament. It became the focal point of a 14.1 cm (5.6 in) high hat clasp, where it was surrounded by two large colorless diamonds of 19.3-carat (3.86 g) and 6.3-carat (1.26 g) carat plus 411 additional medium-sized and small diamonds. This is the setting that the Dresden Green Diamond still appears in today.
Notes and references
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, p. 16 (German)
- Dirk Syndram, Das Grüne Gewölbe – The Green Vault – Le Voûte Verte, 3rd ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-159-5, p. 5
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 7-16 (German)
- Dirk Syndram et al., The Baroque Treasury at the Grünes Gewölbe Dresden, 1st ed. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-422-06644-1, pp. 6-7
- Fritz Löffler: Das alte Dresden - Geschichte seiner Bauten. 16th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-000-0 (German)
- "Residenzschloss (Royal Palace)". Dresden State Art Collections. 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- "Historisches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault)". Dresden State Art Collections. 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 154-155 (German)
- Dirk Syndram et al., The Baroque Treasury at the Grünes Gewölbe Dresden, 1st ed. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-422-06644-1, pp. 132-134
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 166-173 (German)
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 156-157 (German)
- "Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault)". Dresden State Art Collections. 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, p. 65 (German)
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 90-91 (German)
- Dirk Syndram, Das Grüne Gewölbe – The Green Vault – Le Voûte Verte, 3rd ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-159-5, p. 62
- Wolfgang Kootz: Dresden, Illustrated guide to the state capital and surrounding area, B&V Verlag, 2010, pp. 40-41.
- Géza von Habsburg, Princely Treasures, New York: Vendome, 1997, ISBN 978-0-86565-987-2, p. 90.
- Dirk Syndram, Prunkstücke des Grünen Gewölbes zu Dresden, 5th ed. Leipzig: Seemann, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86502-150-2, pp. 122-123 (German)
- von Habsburg, p. 92.
- Edwin W. Streeter (1898). Dresden Green Diamond, in "The Great Diamonds of the World". George Bell & Sons. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
Media related to Grünes Gewölbe at Wikimedia Commons
- Grünes Gewölbe Homepage of the Dresden State Art Collections
- Online Ticket Booking for the Historic Green Vault
- Virtual tour of the Historic Green Vault (English version see upper right)