Dresden’s Green Vault

Historical treasures and masterpieces of art enthrall visitors to Saxony

Ausstellung Macht Exhibition “Power and Fashion” (©SKD, HC Krass)

In the center of Germany’s beautiful state of Saxony sits its capital, Dresden. And within Dresden’s Old Town lies a most intriguing attraction that draws thousands of visitors each year.

The Royal Palace with its Neo-Renaissance-style facades and hundreds of rooms and halls is one of the oldest buildings in Dresden and the former residence of the electors and kings of Saxony in the Albertine line of the House of Wettin.

Girl’s Dress of Sibylla of Saxony (©SKD, Jürgen Lösel)

After being destroyed during World War II, it was rebuilt and today houses the world-renowned Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault. This chamber of sumptuous treasures, collected by Saxon elector August the Strong between 1723 and 1730, glitters with gold, rock crystal and diamonds. The elector enjoyed gathering unusual and expensive objects from around the world to impress friends and visitors. The Green Vault, consisting of two exhibition areas (the New Green Vault with 1,000 individual exhibits and the Historic Green Vault), is nothing short of spectacular and the highlight of any visit to Dresden.

Once inside, visitors embark on a remarkable visual journey back to the Baroque period, known for its grand style in sculpture, painting, architecture and literature. The museum’s art pieces are displayed against mirrored walls and on ornamental tables in an incomparable setting.

Historic Green Vault , Pretiosensaal (©Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, David Brandt)

In the Pretiosa Room or Hall of Treasures, you can savor hundreds of artifacts, cabinets, carvings in rock crystal, extravagant coffee sets, and bejeweled nautilus shells and ostrich eggs. Portraits depict the electors of Saxony who acquired the treasures. A tableau in miniature, the Throne of the Great Mogul, is by renowned Dresden designer Johann Melchior Dinglinger (1701-1708). Other highlights are metal coats of arms and eye-catching gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, carnelians and diamonds set into buttons, swords, brooches and epaulettes. A piece of jewelry art that belonged to Indian Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb consists of 4,090 diamonds, 160 rubies, 164 emeralds, 16 pearls, two cameos and a sapphire. The impressive piece took more than six years to create.

The names of chambers in the Historic Green Vault foretell what to expect: the Amber Room, Ivory Room, White Silver Room, Silver Gilt Room, Coat of Arms Room, Jewel Chamber, Bronze Room and Hall of Precious Objects. The New Green Vault features the famous 41-carat green diamond, the museum’s pièce de résistance.

Gown of Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony (©SKD, Jürgen Karpinski)

As part of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, a new permanent exhibition under the title “Power and Fashion” spotlights the princely and ecclesiastical protagonists of the Reformation period in Saxony. The history of this period is told through museum objects, each of which is noted for its owner. Among the items is Moritz von Sachsen’s blood-stained sash, which he wore when he died in the Battle of Sievershausen. There is also the lavishly decorated suit of armor that protected August of Saxony in 1547 at the Battle of Mühlberg.

Weapons on display include masterpieces by German armor manufacturers and goldsmiths and Italian masters as well. Retracing the path taken by the House of Wettin, the exhibition tells of religious wars and tensions between the pope, emperor and the empire, and of the bestowal of the Saxon electoral title to Frederick I the Belligerent by the emperor in 1423.

Green Vault (©Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, David Brandt)

The museum’s display of Turkish arms from the 16th to the 19th century represents one of the most significant collections of Ottoman art outside of Turkey. One highlight in this section is a 17th century tent of silk and gilded leather.

As an additional enhancement of the Royal Palace historical collections, there are also more than 20,000 artists represented in prints, drawings and photographs. There are Old and New Masters such as Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Caspar David Friedrich, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz and Pablo Picasso, plus contemporary artists like Gerhard Richter and Wolfgang Tillmans. The selection, not restricted to artists from Europe, include Japanese, Chinese and Indian works and span 800 years of art history.

Every year thousands of visitors are awed by the treasures housed in the Royal Palace, a Dresden must-see.