The splendid Zwinger Palace is a remarkable attraction in Dresden – the State capital of Saxony, Germany.
The Palaces’s unusual ‘zwinger’ name comes from the definition used in the Middle Ages that identifies the area located between the inner and outer fortress walls. Dresden has a document dated back to 1216 that refers to an enclosed Dresden Fortification. In 1427 a second outer wall was added to strengthen the city’s defenses.
A garden and orangery, called the Zwingergarten was initially built between the walls and used as a garden by the royal court at Dresden. By 1710 the garden terraces were replaced in favor of an architectural project with arcaded galleries designed to serve as exhibition galleries and library halls. The remaining garden was enlarged to serve as an area for tournaments and court games played by the Saxony nobility. The Long Gallery was added in 1712, the magnificent Crown Gate (Kronentor in German) was built in 1714 and the Zwinger name transferred to the new structure. The Kronentor gate stands on parts of the 15th century outer wall which are still visible, but the older, inner wall has disappeared entirely.
Building was completed by 1728 surrounding and enclosing the large open square. We saw pictures of various fountain and garden designs implemented over the centuries within the square, but during our visit most of the space was fenced off and undergoing renovations. A couple of fountains were working providing a sense of grandeur that the finished gardens will provide.
Today’s Zwinger Palace has richly decorated pavilions, galleries lined with balustrades topped with figures and vases and is home to several significant museums. After the death of Augustus the Strong in 1733 construction ground to a halt. It wasn’t until 1847 that the planned extension to the palace was replaced by the Picture Gallery and Semper Opera House. When the Semperoper Dresden building in Theater Square opened in 1855, Dresden quickly became a favored destination where European nobility could attend operas and symphonies.
Tucked away on the ground floor of one pavilion was a grotto and stunning baroque fountain called the Nymph Bath (Nymphenbad in German), complete with cascading waterfalls and hidden stairs to the upper levels. Installed in the niches on two sides of the grotto held life-size figurines of the nymphs.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
Old Masters Picture Gallery has a current collection of 750 paintings and it was the first museum we visited in Zwinger Palace. The collection includes Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by Italian painters such as Raphael, Titian, Correggio and Tintoretto. It also contains a large number of 17th-century Flemish and Dutch paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Vermeer. Outstanding works by German, French and Spanish painters are also among the gallery’s attractions. This painting below by the Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard seems to have been adopted by Dresden, as we saw the Chocolate Girl on all sorts of souvenirs and postcards.
The Kunstkammer (Art Chamber) was founded by Augustus, Elector of Saxony in 1560. He valued artifacts from the sciences more so than paintings. It was not until early in the 18th century that Augustus II the Strong and his son Frederick Augustus II started to amass a significant collection of paintings and expand the art collection. By 1747 the quickly growing collection required more space for storage and presentation and was moved out from Dresden Castle to the adjacent Stallgebäude (today home to the Dresden Transport Museum).
In 1754, considered the crowning acquisition of the entire collection, Raphael’s, now priceless, Sistine Madonna, arrived in Dresden. You will definitely recognize the two angels looking up from the bottom of the painting. Can you also see the dozens of children’s faces in the clouds that surround the Madonna?
In 1838, the architect Gottfried Semper was invited to design an appropriate setting for the collection. The new gallery wing of the Zwinger was built between 1847 and 1854. In 1855 the Old Masters Picture Gallery opened in its current location, the Semper Gallery.
In 1938 when war was imminent, the museum was closed. The artworks were mostly safely stored away but the gallery building itself was severely damaged by bombs in 1945. After the war most of the paintings were confiscated by the USSR and transported to Moscow and Kiev. Part of the collection returned to Dresden in 1955. Records from 1963 show that 206 paintings had been destroyed and 507 were missing. Of those missing, 450 still are lost today.
Throughout several rooms was a spectacular display of large paintings by Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780), an Italian urban landscape painter or vedutista – a cityscape painter, that we had not come across previously. Included in the exhibition were sensational 18th century cityscapes of Dresden, Vienna, Turin, Warsaw and others. Bellotto was the student and nephew of the renowned painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal Canaletto, commonly known as Canaletto. When he worked in Germany and Poland, Bellotto began to sign himself as Bernardo Canaletto – adopting his uncle’s more famous last name. This caused some confusion, however Bellotto’s work is more somber in color than the original Canaletto’s.
We adored the dozens of Bernardo Bellotto’s intricately detailed paintings depicting the magnificent baroque buildings and daily life of his time. It is thought that Bellotto may have used a camera obscura in order to achieve the precision in his urban views. The collage below has Bernardo Bellotto’s (Canaletto) painting from 1748 called “Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe, below the Augustus Bridge” on top and our photo where we attempted to get a similar view taken in 2022 on the bottom.
Zwinger Palace houses a very good Sculpture Collection primarily focused on the Greek and Roman eras. However it was the Cycladic antiquities that we found especially intriguing.
The Cyclades refer to one group of islands in the Aegean Sea that circle the sacred island of Delos.
The fascinating Cycladic culture flourished in the islands from at least 3300 to 2300 BCE. Together with The Minoan civilization and Mycenaean Greece, the Cycladic people made up the three major Aegean cultures. The least is known about the Cycladic culture.
They are perhaps best known for their simple and symbolic, flat sculptures carved out of the islands’ pure white marble. The marble figurines, most commonly, are a single full-length nude female figure with arms folded across the front and elongated necks. The faces are generally smooth and blank with a sharply defined nose, although there is evidence on some that they were originally painted. They are thought to perhaps represent a Great Goddess of nature but there is no consensus on that theory. They are beautifully unique.
Zwinger Palace’s Porcelain Collection was a treat to visit. Each room and vignette was more stunning than the precious room in this well curated museum.
Augustus the Strong and his son Augustus III in addition to art, were also avid collectors of porcelain from China and Japan and it was their “maladie de porcelaine”, their addiction to white gold, that created this most beautiful porcelain collection in Europe.
We found a story that Augustus the Strong’s porcelain addiction was so strong that in 1717 he made an unusual trade with Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia: 600 of Augustus’ soldiers for 151 pieces of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain, including 30 large vases.
In 1708 Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the secret of white porcelain and within two years, Augustus the Strong had founded the first European porcelain manufacturer in Dresden, which he relocated to Meissen a few months later.
Prost from these Meissenites,
In addition to the lovely porcelain collected from Asia, the porcelain collection offers glorious early porcelain produced at the ‘Meissen Manufactory’.
During the Second World War, the porcelain was relocated to surrounding castles and mines to protect it. After the war Dresden became part of East Germany and the majority of the collection were quickly transported to the Soviet Union. However when Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet government returned 90% of the pieces to Dresden, retaining ten percent. In 1962 the remaining pieces were returned to Dresden and have been at the Zwinger ever since.
With the addition in 1841 of the Semperoper Dresden, home of Dresden’s opera, symphony and ballet, Zwinger Palace continues to be a vibrant and cultural part of the city.
In 2021 small orange trees were planted in large vases in the square, reminiscent of the Zwinger’s origins. Our airbnb was very nearby and we were lucky to be able to walk past and through the glamorous baroque palace daily.
Prost from these Dresdnerin,
Ted + Julia