We knew we were getting closer as there were more souvenir kiosks with the mural on anything and everything you could think of. We turned the corner, and my jaw dropped. Wait! What? It was HUGE! In my travel guide there had only been perhaps 5% of the mural reproduced, and it was without any contextual clues for scale. This mural took up almost the entire side of the building, and it stretched down the entire block, all the way to the castle square.
It was still early in the morning, and the street beside the mural was shockingly vacant. There was just one lone bicycle chained up. Perfect. The Procession of Princes, the Fürstenzug, reminded me vaguely of the opening sequence to Disney’s animated feature Robin Hood (1973), where there’s a parade of nobility and squires in period dress proceeding through the opening credits. I wonder if this is where the animated had received their inspiration?
To celebrate the anniversary in 1889 of 800 years of the rule of the House of Wettin, a new fresco was commissioned to replace one with limewash existing for three hundred years (since 1589) that was nearly invisible on the outer wall of the Stables Courtyard.
Wilhelm Walther (1826-1913) used the sgraffito, from the Italian word graffiare meaning to scratch, technique on stucco, to provide more detail. I have not been able to discover why Wilhelm Walther was chosen for this work, or much about the artist in general. He includes himself as a self portrait at the end of the mural. If you know of any resources on him in English, please let me know in the comments below.
The mural is a visual timeline of almost all the rulers between 1127 until 1904, thirty-five rulers in all, each in their own time period’s costume, mounted on a horse. There are fifty-nine walking figures representing various walks of life, farmers, children, etc. There is only one girl in the entire mural, look for a little girl at the end of the procession. The gentleman at the very, very end with the beard is the artist Wilhelm Walther.
This new mural deteriorated very quickly, and only twenty-eight years later, the painting was replaced with the same design, but utilizing over twenty thousand Meissen porcelain tiles. At three hundred and thirty-five feet long, it is known as the largest porcelain artwork in the world. By some wonderful stroke of luck, the porcelain tiles only suffered minimal damage during the February 13-15, 1945 city-wide bombing of Dresden.
Hopefully third time's a charm for the mural! Again, if you know anything else about the artist Wilhelm Walther, please fill us in! I'd love to learn more. Tell us in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll love our weekly newsletter. You'll receive a free Germany Packing list for signing up, and you'll receive each week's newest posts every Friday. Thank you for reading!
We were lost, but happily lost. There was a tour group up high above the galleries, and we wandered towards them looking for the way up. Upon discovering an exterior staircase, we hustled up top to see if we could surprise Sebastian’s parents and sister. It worked! Calling out to them down below in the gardens, they laughed and had the same inquisitive, puzzled looks we had when we saw the tour group up here. It wasn’t long until his sister had joined us. The view was worth climbing the stairs.
I was surprised that not only could you climb to the top of the galleries, but there were also sculptures and decoration up there. The reason for this was for the view of the gardens and to serve as ‘grandstands’ for Augustus the Strong’s beloved festivals, pageants, processions and tournaments. The Zwinger was even inaugurated in 1719 with Augustus’ son’s wedding to the Habsburg emperor’s daughter in this garden. The architect for the Zwinger complex, Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, aimed to create contrast with the flat ceilings of the galleries, doubling as grandstands, with fancy, sculptural projecting gates and pavilions. This is where sculpture and architecture become gorgeously entangled, namely in the Wallpavillon with its glockenspiel of Meissen porcelain bells, the blue copper and gilded crown of the Kronentor and Nymphenbad, all sculpted under Balthasar Permoser’s direction.
We could stay all day and still not see everything. The Zwinger and Semper complex houses three museums, beyond being an attraction as an exquisite example of Baroque architecture and garden delights in its own right. Sebastian’s Mom advocated strongly for us to visit the Zwinger’s Porcelain Museum, and we briefly ventured into the Old Masters Gallery for the sole purpose of hunting down Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window’.
Check out this video from the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, and while yes parts of it are only in German, patiently wait for New York architect Peter Marino’s multiple charming interviews where he explains his vision for the interior decorating of the Porcelain Museum. Also, I have to recommend again that you listen to the BBC Radio 4 Podcast Episode “Porcelain: The White Gold of Saxony” for a great retelling of August the Strong’s obsessive preoccupation with porcelain and the surprising story of how it came to be made in Saxony. You’ll meet the porcelain rhino who is explained in length in this podcast episode.
The Animal Hall was my favorite because the animals felt like they were enchanted, frozen in porcelain. Yet, the animals were rendered in a way as to be illustrations from someone’s imagination, rather than absolute anatomically perfect representations. I also loved the porcelain flower bouquets, as most who lament that all flowers must die at some point, these would live forever.
I was fascinated by this real world example of faking it until you make it; the Meissen porcelain makers copied their inspiration, the Asian style of porcelain, until they mastered the craft. Then they went on to fashioning a whole new world of porcelain that was uniquely Meissen.
Meeting the Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window
Even I have a limit for how much artwork I can visually consume before I’m overloaded. We visited the Albertinum the day before, and coming from the stunning Porcelain Museum, I was becoming mentally overwhelmed. But, knowing that one of Johannes Vermeer’s masterpieces was so close, I couldn’t NOT see it. Part of my heart would break. So we made this portion of our visit to the Zwinger a bit of a scavenger hunt.
I’m always so surprised at how small Vermeer’s works are, but they still take my breath away. There is yet to be a way of reproducing paintings in books that will ever come close to the viscosity and life of the real thing. Printed drops of ink per inch in a book can never truly capture the richness of color and brush work as the real thing. Vermeer’s works are sore examples of this fact. His work is always so tiny, that it's no wonder that printed reproductions of them are so misleading. Case in point of why it's so important to visit the real paintings. It was worth the effort, and while we were all exhausted and swaying on tired feet, we stood together in front of ‘Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window’ and didn’t say a word, soaking it in. Eyes watering with joy. She was worth it.
Goodies of knowledge that helped with this post
• History Time The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden Website has a great synopsis of the history of the Zwinger and Semper building, I didn’t see a reason to rephrase it.
• Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Podcast Episode “Porcelain: The White Gold of Saxony” for a great retelling of August the Strong’s preoccupation with porcelain and how it came to be made in Saxony.
• Preview your experience through the Museum's official high-resolution 360 degree panoramas.
• Sneak a peek at the museums' holdings through Google's Art Project, available for all 3 museums:
Not mentioned in this post, but also part of the Zwinger Complex, the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical & Physical Instruments
• Read The Fairest of Them All: The Dresden State Art Collections by Jens-Uwe Sommerschuh, my choice for a souvenir.
If you are looking for the most well known historical statue in Dresden, follow the golden shimmer and look down the tree-lined alley in the Neustadt district. At the end of that alley you will spot the golden, extravagant statue of Augustus II the Strong (1670–1733) in full body armor on a horse.
Who is the Man on the Horse?
Augustus II the Strong, the Elector of Saxony from 1694-1733, loved the arts, and the wealth and status the arts advertised. He fashioned the Saxon capital city of Dresden into a baroque gem through his numerous building projects he started and his extensive collection of treasures. Why is 'the Strong' part added to his name? The story goes that Augustus II could bend horseshoes with his bare hands, excelled in fox tossing (which is as horrible to foxes as it sounds), was above average height for the time at almost six feet, and supposedly sired hundreds of children.
The Story of the Statue
Upon the death of Augustus the Strong, his son Augustus III collaborated with his father’s court sculptor Jean-Joseph Vinanche on a memoriam equestrian statue. Vinanche designed the statue showcasing Augustus the Strong as larger than life. Then the design was cast by Ludwig Wiedemann from Augsburg. The statue is actually made out of copper covered in gold foil. The statue was unveiled in 1736 in the square of Neustädter Markt next to the Augustusbrücke, meaning Bridge of Augustus, with the statue facing towards Poland, where he reigned twice, 1697 to 1704, and re-elected 1709 until his death in 1733.
Equestrian Statues as Status Symbols
Equestrian statues are challenging to create because of the amount of weight and support that must be maintained by four, sometimes two if the horse is rearing, slender horse legs. In the Golden Rider, the horse is rearing on its back legs, but you’ll notice there is additional weight support through the horse’s tail. Equestrian statues representing rulers were far from being an innovative idea. It was yet another token of accomplishment that ‘Yes, we too can create that complicated type of sculpture at our court.’
WWII and Today
The statue survived the 1945 city-wide bombing hidden in a secret place, and was not returned to its original position until 1956, where it stands today. The statue has become a symbol of Dresden. Keep your eyes open when you are in a Dresden supermarket, because this landmark is not only pictured on certain beer bottles, but also graces a golden seal on a brand of Dresden Christmas cake called Stollen, basically a sweet yeast loaf with fruits and almonds.
As she handed me my ticket to the Albertinum's galleries, a big dopey grin was already spreading across my face. One of the paintings I was hoping to meet was incorporated into the ticket design. Caspar David Friedrich’ Das Große Gehege bei Dresden, a landscape painting with a sunset sky that’s reflecting in the pools of water of a creek bed in a field.
With landscape paintings, there's typically a man-made object, animal, person, somewhere in the picture to provide a sense of scale. Friedrich’ doesn’t disappoint, there’s a raft nestled into the center of the composition, oh so discreetly.
An Ark for Art: A Brief History
An ark for the art! Admittedly, the slogan made me smile. That’s an optimistic, can-do attitude for you, which has been essential for the Albertinum as it's constantly reacted to the various situations it's been dealt in its 129 year long history as a museum. When the original building was no longer needed as an armoury, it was transformed in only four years into a Neo Renaissance Style museum in 1887.
In the beginning, the Albertinum, housed only the sculpture collection. And while the building did sustain damage during the Dresden Bombing by Allied Forces in 1945, it fared better than many of its neighboring museums. In the 1950s it housed the returned art and treasures that could not return to their original homes at the Green Vault, Coin Cabinet, Armoury Museum and others. The museum expanded during reconstruction to add the New Masters Gallery in the 1960s.
After nearly suffering catastrophic losses during the 2002 flood, 40 contemporary artists held a fundraising auction, raising 3.4 million Euros towards making the Albertinum an Ark for the Art. Playfully toying with the Noah’s Ark tale, the 450+ year old building has been carefully modified to make the building flood proof. At the same time, quadrupled the holdings without losing the building’s original character and appearance. The building itself is a work of art, history and modernity melded together. On historic-character pediments and doorways are fun neon-lit directional signs, and the stunning central Atrium with the cafe and gift shop can also be a concert hall. While touring the floors, there were often windows that looked out into the central atrium.
Various Gallery Experiences
While walking through the galleries, I was surprised at the differing styles of exhibitions. There’s one gallery that is quite dark, the walls are painted nearly black, and you’re faced with the image of glass cases full of sculptures that are lit up. Beautiful storage, no need to keep them in a closet! Another hall, that had both paintings and sculptures, had red walls and it felt like a residential palace. Then there was a sculpture hall that had white arched ceilings, church-like in appearance.
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of my own to share, but these are my 5 favorites of the Museum's, by David Brandt. If you click on any of these, it will take you to the official site where you can see more.
Often your favorite painting keeps good company. While it is nice to meet paintings you’ve perhaps loved from a textbook for a long time, try to be receptive and open to discovering new loves. This painting, Portrait of the Dancer Marietta di Rigardo by Max Slevogt captivated me from across the room. Its an extra large painting, so in size alone it demands attention, but the way the dancer looks out of the painting keeps my imagination entertained. I love loose, expressive brushwork; the tassels of the shawl, the rug, the hint of a background, like swirls of frosting on a cake. I may have come to see Caspar David Friedrich’s work, but Max Slevogt is the one that is burned into my memory, and the postcard I have on my desk looking back at me.
Usually the museum gift shop will offer the majority of their works on exhibit as postcards, which I LOVE. Not only do you receive a small little keepsake for a few Euros, but it will often have the size, medium, title, and artist information along with of course the museum information. When I worked in a cubicle, my walls were covered with these postcards. Don’t forget, you must buy the art postcards at the museum it's exhibited in. The museums attain special reprinting licenses in order to make those postcards and sell them, so the kitsch souvenir shop on the corner won’t have them.
Have you ever gone to a museum looking for something, and then been blown away by something new? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
•The New Masters Gallery is included in the Google Art Project. Click here to see.
• Visit the official Panorama Tours of the New Masters Gallery and Sculpture Hall.
Sommerschuh, Jens-Uwe. The Fairest of Them All: The Dresden State Art Collections. Trans. Allison Plath-Moseley and Michael Wolfson. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010. Print.