Since September 1746 the “Holy night” by Correggio is in Dresden; a painting that was entered in the register as the “famosa notte” known allover Europe. It was the most famous painting in the Dresden collections until in 1800 the Sistine Madonna took over this position.
The painting refers to an episode from the proto-gospel of Jacobus, an early Christian text dating to the middle of the 2nd century: On her way to Bethlehem, Mary was about to go into labour. Joseph could only find a cave as a shelter and brought Mary there before went searching for a midwife. When he returned, a cloud covered the cave and after it disappeared the cave was flooded with light – so bright that his eyes could not bear to look at it.
Correggio employed this kind of divine luminosity in perfection; however, other painters before him already knew and used the same visual concept.
An automaton in a bearskin
A gigantic alarm clock! The clock face shines forth as a golden medal on the chest of of a bear from 1625. If the clock ticks, the bear’s eyes move to and fro. The alarm is rather rude, a drum roll will certainly throw every sovereign out of the bed.
The Physico-mathematical Salon in the Zwinger houses a number of amazingly artistic objects, mechanical devices and mathematial instruments from the times around 1600. They lead back to one of the origins of the Dresden collections in the 16th century – an art chamber and cabinet of curiosities where the electors looked into topics like land surveys and astronomy and followed their enthusiasm for automatons.
On 23 000 tiles made from Meissen porcelain and over a distance of 102 metres the gallery of ancestors of the House of Wettin rides along the Augustusstrasse. Originally the procession was scratched into the plaster in sgraffito, just like the reliefs in the great courtyard of the palace. That did not last, so in 1904-07 the design was transfered to porcelain tiles. These tiles withstood the air attacks on Dresden and the heat of the fire remarkably well.
Together with the ancestors rides the last scion of the Staufer, Friedrich der Gebissene (“the bitten one”; 1257-1323), the son of Albert dem Unartigen (“the naughty one”). His mother in her wrench once bit him so hard in the cheek that he kept a small scar and his nickname all his life.
“On the next day some policemen gazed over the garden gate by accident, saw what they believed to be the naked body of a woman covered in blood and rushed into the house expecting to find the location of a murder of passion. In fact that was exactly what had happened ecause on that very evening I murdered Alma ….”
It was the Viennese artist Oskar Kokoschka who was under suspense. The exalted painter had chopped off the head of his former mistress Alma Mahler in his front garden. Before that he visited the Semper Opera with her. The desperate Kokoschka had a cloth puppet with the looks of Alma made by a puppet maker. It was this puppet that was seated beside him at the Opera and that he later ritually murdered during a night of binge drinking.
On some paintings by Kokoschka the Alma puppet is shown and three photos of her are also known.
After a day in the sun, a night under the barrel-vault
This famous Dresden jazz club was accessed though a basement, its barrel-vault inspired the name: Tonne (barrel). Many hours of building and renovation had to be spent before on 13th March 1981 the vaults were opened to the public. Besides the basement and the vaults not much was left; the Kurländer Palais (Courland palace) was the last building of the old town that was still in ruins and was only rebuilt between 2006 and 2008. Since 2015 the Tonne is back in its original location – the vaults of the basement under the now reconstructed palace.
“Colossal lemon squeezer” is its colloquial name among the citizens of Dresden. The art historian Fritz löffler described it a ” a continuous nuisance, compared to the Frauenkirche”. The ribbed glass dome of the Academy of Arts is an integral part of the city skyline and is the landmark of the Hochschule für bildende Künste. It is crowned by a gilded Fama, the Roman deity of fame and rumours. Vergil and Ovid talk about her. The Dresden Fama bears a laurel wreath, symbolising the fame of the artist. Below the umbrella dome is an octagonal exhibition space that was damaged during the war and was re-opened only in 2002.
In 1728 the first diner service for the Saxon court was decorated with yellow lions. This lion, or rather a yellow tiger with black stripes, sneaks around a blue broken bamboo stem. Two beasts with scales also decorate Meissen porcelain – the Ming dragon and the courtly dragon. The preferred colour for the Ming dragon is red – in China the most auspicious of all colours. The dragon itself is a symbol of good fortune, too.
The core collection of the Porcelain Collection housed in the Zwinger goes back to the collection of East Asian and Saxon porcelain that Augustus the Strong started around 1715. It became, within only two decades, the largest in Europe.
Among the nightclubs of Dresden the “Gondel” (gondola) held a privileged position. It was situated at Brühl’s Terrace in the Secundogeniture building and was opened on 16th November 1968. During the 1970s for a while it even offered striptease once a week. By desk telephone you asked your favourite for a dance.
The elegant building, however, is not the building originally made for this place. The site was originally occupied by the building of Brühl’s library that was appropriated to the needs of the Academy of Arts in lete 18th century. The Academy, however, moved the the impressive neighbouring building and the library was subsequently demolished and re-built in the Neo-Baroque style in 1897. It now contained the library and a collection of copper engravings belonging to the second borne prince, Johann Georg – hence the name of the building, Secundogeniture. Until 1945 the Secondogeniture was used as an exihibition space. During the air raid of 13th February 1945 it was burned down completely and only rebuild in 1963-64.
Family Hering from Dresden was absolutely amazed to come across a gold fish during the big flooding in August 2002. The incident is particularly remarcable as the house of the family stood hundreds of metres away from the water and was completely dry. “The fish swam along the flooded road.It probably came from a garden pond” recalls the father as he points out which of the gardens in his neighbourhood were submerged during the flooding. He claims to have even seen a carp swimming between the garages.
The flood of 2002 with a peak of 9,40 metres was the highest documented flooding in the history of Dresden.
A Dangerous Walk in the Woods
This dancing girl is known as a fragment. It was introduced to art history as the Maenad by Skopas and is one of the most important sculptures in the collection of the Albertinum in Dresden. The maenads were also called bacchantes that means “furious”. Dressed in the hide of a deer calf, carrying torches and brandishing the thyrsos, a stick wrapped in leafy garlands, they danced and froliced through the woods in the entourage of Dionysos. In their ecstatic rapture they tore apart jung animals and ate them raw; one day poor Orpheus met the same fate.
Since antiquity meanads were often depicted; the Dresden maenad is a smaller copy of a Greek original dated to the 4th century BCE.
Ein Stern im Angedenken
Die Sempersche Synagoge ist spurlos verschwunden. Das Gebäude am Hasenberg an der Brühlschen Terasse wurde, wie in einem Lehrfilm der Technischen Nothilfe dokumentiert, in den Tagen nach dem 9. November 1938, der Reichspogromnacht, „fachgerecht“ abgetragen, die Steine verkauft und im Straßenbau verarbeitet. Ihre Zerstörung leitete den Holocaust ein, dem letztlich fast die gesamte Gemeinde zum Opfer fiel. Am 9. November 1998, genau 60 Jahre später, erfolgte der erste Spatenstich für die Neue Synagoge, Der moderne Baukörper verdreht sich in 35 Schichten nach Osten und richtet so die Thoraschrainwand im Innern nach Jerusalem aus. Der Standort des zerstörten Baus wird im Innenhof zwischen Neuer Synagoge und Gemeindezentrum mit dem nachgezeichneten Grundriss sichtbar gemacht. Über dem Portal wurde der original erhaltene Davidstern angebracht, den der Dresdner Feuerwehrmann Alfred Neugebauer nach den Novemberpogromen 1938 gerettet hatte. Zwischenzeitlich war der Stern auf der Synagoge Fiedlerstraße 3 montiert.
“The complexion, how it flourishes”
The colour of naked skin fascinated the painter Siegfried Klotz. With a palette-knife he captured it on canvas in his studio in the Academy of Arts, today named Hochschule für Bildende Künste, at Brühl’s Terrace. In this studio he piled up female nudes, portraits and scenes from the studio in the typical Dresden colour range. It was this enthusiasm for colour Siegfried Klotz instilled into is students. Until his death in 2004 he was an integral part of the Academy; whenever he was not painting he spent his time in one of the cafés. Even in the middle of winter he brought his easel out to Brühl’s Terrace; from there he painted his most beautiful vistas of the city covered in snow. Many painters from Dresden as well as Oskar Kokoschka and Otto Dix had already done so before him from exactly this spot and from the flat roof of the Academy building.
The eye of Dresden
The director of photography Ernst Hirsch goes after every tiny bit of historical footage for his large Dresden Film Archive and has filmed each corner of the citiy für the last 55 years. His collection of historical films about Dresden is one of the largest private collections of this kind and contains, amongs others, the oldest known shoots of Dresden dating back to 1903. The 33 film canisters from the Dresden company of Heinrich Ernemann were re-discovered in a farmhouse in Southern Tyrolia in 1996. The footage shows a drive over the Augustus Bridge showing pedestrians and a tram. From the abundant sources in his archive Hirsch compiled several films such as “Dresden in the 1920’s”, “Dresden in old movies” and “Past and present – traveling Dresden by tram”.
Cross of Peace
The new cross on the cupola of the Dresden Frauenkirche is a sign of reconciliation.
It was paintakingly copied from the original by the London silversmith Alan Smith. “The cross is a way to apologize that my father would approve of,” he said when handing over the cross in February 2000. His father Frank was one of the bomber pilots of the Royal Air Force in the attack on Dresden on 13th February 1945; this experience induced him to become a pacifist.
The original cross was recovered from the debris of the Frauenkirche in 1996 and is today displayed as a reminder inside the church.
Floating Steam Engine
The Saxon Steam Navigation based in Dresden currently owns nine paddle steamers buit between 1879 and 1929. The sidewheelers with their historical wheel houses and their paddle wheels encased in paddle cases decorated with coats of arms are protected as technical monuments. Seven of them were built in the 19th century: City of Wehlen (1879), Diesbar (1884), Meissen (1885), Pillnitz (1886), Krippen (1892), Spa Town Rathen (1896) and Pirna (1898). Only the engine of the Diesbar is fired with coal and is under preservation order. The steam engine originally was built in 1841 for the paddle steamer Bohemia; it is regarded as the world’s oldest steam paddler engine still in use
Church of the Holy Cross
There were times when city views painted by the famous court painter Canaletto took pride of place on the walls of most sitting rooms in Dresden.
Only 25 years old, the painter came from Venice to Dresden where he was made court painter with an annual salary of 1750 thaler. As a sign of his recognition he received a snuffbox and the royal couple became godparents of four of his children.
Canaletto treated many details of his paintings with artistic license; some buildings he showed as complete though in reality they were still under construction. One of his paintings shows the Old Market and the Church of the Holy Cross that united features of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Years later, in 1765, he painted the same view again – the church is now in ruins, destroyed during the Seven Years’ War.
Today the Old Market is graced by a Neo-baroque building – the latest reincarnation of a church that was jolted and battered by history.
Bearer of light
He flitted into the churches as an enunciator at Christmas time. The snug parlours of homes in the Erzgebirge he entered during the 19th century – a companion of the Lichterbergmann (lightbearing miner), the figure of a simple miner wearing a green hat, hammer and pick. The Nuremberg tinsel angel made from thin brass foil served as models for the angel figures. The original multi-pointed crown of the angel was also changed into a simple turned drum that mirrors the tall hat worn by the miners.
Until today many families in the region follow the tradition to give an angel to little girls and a miner to little boys as their first Christmas present.
The most beautiful Christmas angels in Dresden can be found at the Jägerhof.
Aria measured in five-minutes cycles
The King of Saxony is said to have had it installed because the ticking of pocket watches in the audience got on his nerves. In 1841 the first “Five-Minutes-Clock” was installed above the stage in the Semperoper – a new digital display indicating the hours in Roman, the minutes in Arabic numerals. True to its name it progresses in five minutes intervals. The clock was replaced several times, after the fire of 1869 as well as after the devastations of the Second World War.
The clockmaker to the court, Johann Christian Friedrich Gutkaes built the original clock for the Semperoper in 1841; his apprentice and son-in-law four years later opened his own workshop in Glashütte this laying the foundations of the famous Saxon clock-making tradition.
Stark an körperlicher Kraft muß August tatsächlich gewesen sein. So soll er am 15. Februar 1711 ein Hufeisen mit den bloßen Händen zerbrochen haben. Darüber ließ er ein Zertifikat anfertigen und es zusammen mit dem Corpus Delicti in der Kunstkammer aufbewahren. Seine Körpergröße von 1,76 Metern war für damalige Verhältnisse überdurchschnittlich. Im Lavieren zwischen katholischem und protestantischen Glauben unterwarf August die Religionszugehörigkeit seinen Herrschaftsintentionen. Und so liegt das Herz in einer Kapsel in der Dresdner Hofkirche und der Körper in Polen. Ursprünglich zugedacht war ihm die Grablege im Freiberger Dom.
Diese verschlungenen Initialen Augusts des Starken befindet sich am Goldenen Reiter.
Maritime binge drinking
“The entire garden was illuminated and in both corners were two cabinets for silent pleasures. Finally huge bender. The king, brave in this regard, ahead of everybody.” Thus a Prussian envoy eported the 48th birthday of Augustus the Strong.
Whoever was invited to a Baroque festive diner table had to brace himself. Among the many trick decorations were ship models on wheels, their body filled with wine. The were wheeled on the table and whenever they came to a halt in front of one of the guests he had to “unload he cargo”. The metal ship’s crew often leveled their guns at the “delinquent”. Better not to waste a thought on the morning after ….
Sempers collection of reptiles
Frogs and geckos are crawling on pillars an arches; they serve as waterspouts. Four religious figures, among them John the Baptist and Saint Elisabeth, face the four directions and safeguard the city of Dresden.
The cholera raged in the region in 1841-42 but Dresden was miraculously spared. Baron Eugen von Gutschmid was so relived that amongst others he commissioned Gottfried Semper with the design of the so-called cholera fountain. Against his own conviction Semper followed the wishes of the sponsor and designed the fountain in a neo-Gothic, cathedral-like style. Although dainty and elegant, the fountain in the centre of the Postplatz eventually became a traffic block. In 1927 it was therefore moved to Sophienstraße
The Elector of Saxony, Christian II, has gained weight; in later years he never wore the grand garment made for him when he was 26 years old. Besides his red there is also a blue garment from 1601. The hem of a coat produced for another elector, Moritz, is good for a superlative, too – it measures 6,29 meters.
Sateen, silk, gold passament and trimmings, silver filigree, precious stones and pearls … grand garments were part of the treaury as well as splendid weapons, both made from the most exquisite materials and following the latests whims of style and fashion. Alltogether 27 stately garments unfold their splendour in the Dresden residence. The smallest of the costumes on display, a dress in the colour of peach blossoms with pink silk bows, is behind today’s calendar window. It was worn by the 4 year old prince Johann Georg II.
Musical instruments can quite often be found in the hands of angels. An entire orchestra of angels buzz around the Virgin Mary in the Dresden Cathedral, and one of them hold the queen of instruments, the lute.
Early forms of the European lute may have been brought to the continent by the crusaders. They may have reached Central Europe even earlier via moorish Spain or the Byzantine Empire that shared borders with Persia.
The name lute is derived from the Arabic “al-oud” meaning “the wood”. The wooden oud is a common instrument in the Arabic countries – on its way to the Occident the letters of its name obviously got a good shaking..
Out of his cornucopia a muscular Hercules pours good fortune over Dresden. The god himself is covered in 520 g of beatgold. Since 1908 he overlooks the city from the tower of the city hall.
Ewald Redam was lucky as well in 1907 bearing a gold medal on his chest. Redam was incumbent Saxon champion in heavy weight and oktathlon; he made an additional income as an artist’s model in Dresden. Amongst others he posed for the Herkules created by the sculptor Richard Guhr. Redam, the son of a grocer’s couple, took up power athletics (Kraftsport) at an early age. He trained at the “Kraftsportverein Dresden-Plauen” and later at the “Verein für Sport und Körperkultur 1899” (Association for Sports and Physical Training) in Meißen. The variety show he ran with his wife, the “Four Redams Power Athlets”, toured the world for a few years. In the colossal statue of a man throwing a ball Redam also stands in front of the German Museum of Hygiene in Dresden.