Green, or gruen (German), because of the light verdant hue that emanated at the main vaulted chamber that housed more than 2,000 priceless gems around 1572. It was also called, the “Secret Custody”, eventually, the “Precious Hall”, with vaulted rooms spanned by priceless stucco ceiling (16th century); the smallest area had walls three meters thick, barred windows, and iron gates.
Until the 18th century, these vaults served as the state strong rooms of Elector-King August the Strong when he converted the “Secret Custody of the Green Vault” in his residential palace in Dresden into a state-of-the-art treasure chamber.
For 200 years until World War II, this collection of great unique artwork displayed in 8 splendidly designed exhibition rooms, fascinated the art world. After February 1945, these historical exhibition rooms were damaged, three were completely destroyed.
When we visited in August 2003, half of the museum’s precious inventory were displayed at the Albertinum Museum; on a second trip, in August 2009, all the original 3,000 pieces of treasure were back in full display in the many vaulted chambers of the Dresden Palace.
The splendor of this collection rests with its rich historical origin as well as the plentiful legends surrounding each piece of the collection; each inherited gem, outstanding masterpieces of the best craftsmen and jewelers between the 15th and the 17th centuries.
The collection, established in 1560 by Elector August represented the Renaissance perception of the artisans and artists, developed in numerous European royal courts; the extravagance of the work depended on the personal and financial capabilities of the noble owners of these masterpieces.
Saxony, at its height of industrialization, displayed more than 1000 tools, measuring, drawing devices, astronomic and chronograph instruments.
From the succession of generations of ruling Electors and their spouses, ( Johann George IV , Duke Friedrich August) extensive painting and sculptures, woodcuts, engravings, masterpieces of arts and crafts were added to the collection.
Elector August the Strong restructured and distributed the museum pieces and created other museums: antiquities; gallery of paintings; the copper engraving cabinet; the mint cabinet; the armory; the mathematical-physical salon; the porcelain collection; and the natural sciences.
Among all these, the one that August the Strong completely established and finished was the “Secret Custody of the Green Vault”, expanding and building the treasure chambers from 1723 to 1730.
Figurative consoles, gilded walls and, lacquered pillars, floors and casings in polished Saxon marble, mirrored walls- all crafted by famous porcelain sculptors, architects, lacquerers made this into an amazing museum. It was heralded, at the end of the 19th century, as the must-see “Green Vault or Treasure Chamber” of Dresden.
The original Green Vault was accessible only to limited to small chosen groups of visitors.
The Bronze Room contained lacquered and polished statues, monuments, reliefs, figurines, bowls, platters, swords, epaulets, dress accessories in solid metal, ivory, marble, porcelain, wood.
The White Silver Room, displayed an enormous banquet table silver set, used in feasts during the reign of August the Strong, a proof of his wealth. (These were melted in its entirety in 1772, an irrevocable loss).
The Silver Gilded Room’s inventory has been preserved: pure solid gold artwork, along with a variety of inherited statuary silver vessels, displayed on more than 300 splendidly carved wall consoles on mirrored walls; solid gold vessels covered with colored large-sized rubies, emeralds, topaz, sapphire, diamonds; amber, silver, rock crystals in all shapes and sizes; a vast collection of Limoges; intricate enamel paintings; large strong gold boxes encrusted with large precious stones; ivory, chalcedony, mother of pearl figurines studded with pearls, sapphires, emeralds, ruby, diamonds; and sculpted gem covered porcelain.
The Heraldic room contained among previous stones and ruby glass, 44 copper embossed and gilded Saxon coat of arms.
The Gem Room, at its most unusual and its most awed at room contained: diamond studded masterpieces by Johann Dinglinger – the most important jeweler of Germany in the 18th century; four large showcases of embedded tableaux not seen anywhere in the world at that time ( and by all counts, still are wonders of the jewelry world ) filled to the brim with dripping golden pendants,necklaces, rings, gem studded swords, hat brims, epaulets: all blinking, glinting in mirror covered walls, white lacquered polished pillars, and ornamented an adorned vault.
Overwhelmed by the opulence and extreme extravagance, we could not stop hopping about from one tableau to another, whispering to each other in wonder, in awe, in complete amazement at such a collection! “ooh, did you see all those stones in that carriage?”, “Oh, look at that figure, covered in ruby!”, “That box, sparkling with clusters of varied shaped pearls, some the size of my toe”, ” That umbrella, covered with diamonds!”..and so on.
Presently, there are 3,000 items in newly renovated Green Vault at this stately Dresden Palace, divided into the Historical Green Vault and the New Green Vault .
It is a remarkable and unique collection, almost every item has been labeled as known as….”the pure white diamond of Dresden”- Saxon White Diamond (48 carats), or “the ivory frigate”, or “the golden jewelry cabinets of Dresden”, “two moors with monstrous mother-of-pearl bowls”, three Graces in pure solid amber”, “Ivory Mercury”, “splendid Oriental Jasper bowl with a fighting Hercules”, among thousands of other unique and well-known work of art masterpieces made of gold, silver, ivory, emeralds, rubies, diamonds, pearls, sapphires, topaz.
It is an exhilarating sensation, exploring these vaulted halls and gazing at priceless collection of work. What the elector August the Strong meant by building the Green Vault has been achieved: this memorable collection has withstood time and world crises.
During the dark age of Dresden, after the second world war, when East Germany was isolated from the western world, the Green Vault was completely hidden from the rest of the world. After the fall of the Berlin wall, as soon as we could, we rushed to see this wonder, back in full resplendence.
The rest of the world should see it, it is just right.
Source: Gems of the Green Vault in Dresden, Dick Syndram, Koehler & Amelang, Munchen, Berlin 2000.
Author’s travel notes
Wikipedia and the internet
next: The two famous angels: “So this is where they have always been?” The Old Master’s Picture Gallery, Dresden