What’s the good in a collection of treasure if you can’t show it off to people? The Green Vault and all of its glittering treasures in the Residenzschloss in Dresden was one of the first art museums to open to visitors. In 1642, there were 120 visitors. In 1684, there were 800. In 1686, the 15-year-old August the Strong, toured the collection as an unlikely heir, a second-born son. Did that tour change his life? History would suggest yes!
Kindergarten-style Show and Tell
In August the Strong’s time it was important for healthy foreign policy to exchange gifts and tokens of goodwill. A king who had priceless, brilliant treasures from various lands could be inferred as held in high esteem by other nations. August traveled extensively throughout Europe and saw the vision that is Versailles in France. He was inspired to cultivate the arts in Dresden and sought out new ways to impress, such as porcelain. See the resources below for a great podcast episode on Dresden’s porcelain history.
Sparkles As Far As The Eye Can See
When August the Strong became ruler of the region, he expanded the holdings as well as the vault itself. The Green Vault is named after the columns and other architectural elements, which had originally been painted green. It was designed as an endless circuit in order to feel like you’re surrounded by a never ending collection, so to speak. Walking through the Green Vault is akin to walking through a giant jewelry box.
Ample Free Time?
Its hard not to feel a sense of impending culture extinction while in the Green Vault. This is what humans did before the advent of computers, smart phones, social media. WOW. Has the skills to create the treasures in the Green Vault been completely lost to history? The seconds, minutes, hours, days, years we’re on our phones and computers, someone a hundred years ago, or slightly longer, was spending THEIR seconds, minutes, hours, days, years creating these works of art that are just mind-boggling complex, beautiful, and one of a kind.
My personal favorite were the figurines that incorporated nautilus or a pearl shell into the design. One in particular showed a ‘Jolly Vintner’, from before 1725 in Sebastian’s backyard hometown Frankfurt am Main. Its made of baroque pearls, gold, enamel, silver, partially gilded, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire, amethyst, carnelian, and glass.
Good to Know If You Go...
1. Great care has been taken to not only rebuild, but recreate the Historic Green Vault to how it would have been in the 1700s. The artifacts are displayed without glass between you and them, and on their respective pedestals in front of mirrored walls. Yes, it's going to be packed. The first clue is timed-entry admission. Take a deep breath. Promise yourself coffee and cake after your visit to the vault.
2. Your admission includes an audio guide, and the clerks will look at you peculiarly if you don’t take one. I tried. I soon realized there were very few informational signs for the exhibits. If you’re not on first name terms with August the Strong, hadn’t had an art history class in recent memory, then prepare to suck up your 'I’m Not a Tourist’ pride and put the embarrassing audio guide headset on. Sebastian and I were the only ones who did not use the audio guides. Others looked at us odd with raised eyebrows for idly toting them around like pets. Personally I love going through an exhibit with someone, quietly making observations and discussing what we’re looking at, and wondering about those who made the items.
3. It was nice that they strictly do not allow photography. Admittedly it's mostly for controlling the amount and kind of light that touches the antique, precious objects, but it helped keep the flow of people moving through the exhibits.
If you've been to the Historical Green Vault, what was your favorite treasure? How do you feel about museums that rely heavily on audio guides? Let us know in the comments below-
Visit the official website for the Historical Green Vault in Residenzschloss
Goodies of knowledge that helped with this post
• 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 panorama.
• Sneak a peek at the treasures through Google's Art Project.
• Read The Fairest of Them All: The Dresden State Art Collections by Jens-Uwe Sommerschoh
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.