|Dresden. A Brief Background History
|Monks gave Dresden its start by establishing a missionary settlement there in the 11th century. The
city itself was originally founded around 1206 and became the capital of Heinrich the Illustrious,
Margrave of Meissen, in 1270. After his death, Wenceslaus of Bohemia took possession, followed by
the Margrave of Brandenburg.
Early in the 14th century it was restored to the Margrave of Meissen. On the division of Saxony in
1485, it fell to the Albertine line. In the 18th century, its medieval beginnings gave way to Baroque
masterpieces that made the city one of the outstanding urban centers of the Age of Enlightenment.
Under Augustus I. and Augustus II., Dresden was greatly expanded and enriched. Hoping to make
Dresden the most important royal residence, they imported many of the best architects and painters
from all over Europe. Their reign marked the beginning of Dresden's emergence as a leading center
of European culture for art and musical genius as well as technology. August the Strong
Dresden was often called the "German Florence". The rich architecture, art treasures, opera houses,
museums, churches and royal palaces rivaled none. Overlooking green hills, one viewed the valley of
the Elbe from Dresden to Meissen; The castle of Moritzburg, the hunting seat of the king of Saxony,
perched on an island in a nearby lake. Dresden had long attracted poets, philosophers, writers and
artists. In the 19th century, it was a center of German literature and musical Romanticism. Dresden
developed into an important location for the international sale of art and antiques. Through the
centuries, creative figures such as Goethe, Schiller, Wagner and Schumann flocked to Dresden.
Dresden suffered repeated destruction: by fire in 1491, from the French under Napoleon, from
bombardment by Prussia in 1760 and during the suppression of the constitutionalist May Uprising in
1849. For most of the 19th century and until 1918, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of
Saxony. It had also become a major center of industry in the 19th century. The worst fate that befell
the old city by far, however, was the intentional Allied bombing in February 1945 which pulverized it.
From a description of Dresden in a 1911 Encyclopedia:
The royal palace, or Georgenschloss, built in 1530-1535 by Duke George, was thoroughly restored,
and in some measure rebuilt between 1890 and 1902, in German Renaissance style. The Georgentor
has been widened, and through it, and beneath the royal apartments, vehicular traffic from the centre
of the town is directed to the Augustusbrücke. The whole is surmounted by a lofty tower- 387 ft.-
the highest in Dresden. The interior is splendidly decorated. In the palace chapel are pictures by
Rembrandt, Nicolas Poussin, Guido Reni and Annibale Caracci. The adjoining Prinzen-Palais on the
Taschenberg, built in 1715, has a chapel in which are various works of S. Torelli; it has also a library
of 20,000 books.
The Zwinger, begun in 1711, and built in the rococo style, forms an enclosure, within which is a
statue of King Frederick Augustus I. It was intended to be the vestibule to a palace, but now contains
a number of collections of great value. Until 1846 it was open at the north side; but this space has
since been occupied by the museum, a beautiful Renaissance building, the exterior of which is
adorned by statues of Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Dante, Goethe and other artists and poets by
Rietschel and Hahnel, and it contains the famous gallery.
The Brühl palace, built in 1737 by Count Brühl, the minister of Augustus II., has been in some
measure demolished to make room for the new Standehaus (diet house), with its main facade facing
the Hofkirche; before the main entrance there is an equestrian statue (1906) of King Albert. Close by
is the Briihl Terrace, approached by a fine flight of steps, on which are groups by Schilling,
representing Morning, Evening, Day and Night. The terrace commands a view of the Elbe and the
distant heights of Loschwitz and the Weisser Hirsch, but the prospect has of late years become
somewhat marred, owing to the extension of the town up the river and to the two new bridges.
The Japanese palace in the Neustadt, built in 1715 as a summer residence for Augustus II., receives
its name from certain oriental figures with which it is decorated; it is sometimes called the Augusteum
and contains the royal library. Among other buildings of note is the Hof theatre, a magnificent edifice
in the Renaissance style, built after the designs of Semper, to replace the theatre burnt in 1869, and
completed in 1878. A new town hall of huge dimensions, also in German Renaissance, with an
octagon tower 400 ft. in height, stands on the former southern ramparts of the inner town.
In the Altstadt the most striking of the newer edifices is the Kunstakademie, constructed from designs
by Lipsius in the Italian Renaissance style, 1890-1894. The Albertinum, formerly the arsenal, built in
1559-1563, was rebuilt 1884-1889, and fitted up as a museum of oriental and classical antiquities,
and as the depository of the state archives. On the right bank of the Elbe in Neustadt stand the fine
buildings of the ministries of war, of finance, justice, the interior and education
The chief pleasure-ground of Dresden is the Grosser Garten, in which there are a summer theatre,
the Reitschel museum, and a chateau containing a museum of antiquities.
The latter is composed chiefly of objects removed from the churches in consequence of the
Reformation. Near the château is the zoological garden, formed in 1860, and excellently arranged.
Dresden owes a large part of its fame to its extensive artistic, literary and scientific collections. Of
these the most valuable is its splendid picture gallery, founded by Augustus I. and increased by his
successors at great cost. It is in the museum, and contains about 2500 pictures, being especially rich
in specimens of the Italian, Dutch and Flemish schools.
The gem of the collection is Raphael's "Madonna di San Sisto," for which a room is set apart. There
is also a special room for the "Madonna" of the younger Holbein. Besides the picture gallery the
museum includes a magnificent collection of engravings and drawings. There are upwards of 400,000
specimens, arranged in twelve classes, so as to mark the great epochs in the history of art. A
collection of casts, likewise in the museum, is designed to display the progress of plastic art from the
time of the Egyptians and Assyrians to modern ages.
This collection was begun by Raphael Mengs, who secured casts of the most valuable antiques in
Italy, some of which no longer exist. The Japanese palace contains a public library of more than
400,000 volumes, with about 3000 MSS. and 20,000 maps. It is especially rich in the ancient
classics, and in works bearing on literary history and the history of Germany, Poland and France.
There are also a valuable cabinet of coins and a collection of ancient works of art. A collection of
porcelain in the "Museum Johanneum" (which once contained the picture gallery) is made up of
specimens of Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, Sevres and Meissen manufacture, carefully arranged in
In the Griine Gewolbe (Green Vault) of the Royal Palace, so called from the character of its original
decorations, there is an unequalled collection of precious stones, pearls and works of art in gold,
silver, amber and ivory. The objects, which are about 3000 in number, are arranged in eight rooms.
They include the regalia of Augustus II. as king of Poland; the electoral sword of Saxony; a group by
Dinglinger, in gold and enamel, representing the court of the grand mogul Aurungzebe, and consisting
of 132 figures upon a plate of silver 4 ft. 4 in. square; the largest onyx known, 63 in. by 24 inches.; a
pearl representing the dwarf of Charles II. of Spain; and a green brilliant weighing 40 carats.
The royal palace also has a gallery of arms consisting of more than 2000 weapons of artistic or
historical value. In the Zwinger are the zoological and mineralogical museums and a collection of
instruments used in mathematical and physical science. Among other collections is that of the Korner
museum with numerous reminiscences of the Goethe-Schiller epoch, and of the wars of liberation
(1813-15), and containing valuable manuscripts and relics.
Besides the two royal theatres, Dresden possesses several minor theatres and music halls. The pride
of place in the world of music is held by the orchestra attached to the court theatre. Founded by
Augustus II., it has become famous throughout the world, owing to the masters who have from time
to time been associated with it - such as Pair, Weber, Reissiger and Wagner. Symphony and popular
concerts are held throughout the year in various public halls, and, during the winter, concerts of
church music are frequently given in the Protestant Kreuzand Frauen-Kirchen, and on Sundays in the
Roman Catholic church. (end)