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History of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

The Dresden art collections belong to the most renowned and oldest museum institutions in the world. In the 16th century, they emerged from the aristocratic collections, whose 450th anniversary the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden celebrated in 2010.

Most importantly was the Kunstkammer, which was situated in the Dresden royal palace. Based on late Renaissance thinking, the Kunstkammer was a universal collection with an encyclopaedic approach and a strong focus on various instruments and technological innovations. The Dresden collections received its unique character, which has been valid until today, through the art spirit of two electors: August the Strong (1679-1733, Elector of Saxony since 1694, King of Poland since 1697) and his son August III (1696-1763, Elector and King since 1733). Ever since taking office, August the Strong supported the systematic development of his holdings. He passionately collected porcelain and precious items. Around 1720, the first special collections - among them the Grüne Gewölbe, the Skulpturensammlung and the Kupferstich-Kabinett - were arranged under his supervision. We have to thank his son for the extension of the old master's gallery, which became one of the most important galleries in Europe through the purchase of entire collections in the mid-18th century. Last but not least, the Dresden collections range among those which were first opened to a limited audience. After the disastrous end of the Seven Years' War (1756-63), decades of stagnation followed for the collections. Only were these difficulties surmounted with the collection reform designed by state secretary Bernhard August von Lindau and the construction of the new gallery building near the Zwinger (architect Gottfried Semper) in the mid-19th century. After the end of monarchy, the “Königliche Sammlungen für Kunst und Wissenschaft” (Royal Collections of Art and Science) were transformed into the “Staatliche Sammlungen für Kunst und Wissenschaft” (State Collections for Art and Science).

However, the character of the museum institution did not change and the scientific collections as well as the state library still belonged to the group. The museums of Dresden were integrated into the system of art robbery by the Nazis after 1933. From 1939 onwards, the gallery directors were also responsible for Hitler's “Sonderauftrag Linz” (Special Commission Linz). In 1945 the Second World War, which was initiated by Germany, not only hit the old part of Dresden badly, but also the museums. The majority of the art works was saved, because they had been previously evacuated, but buildings were damaged to a great extent. After the end of the war, trophy commissions of the Red Army seized the art works and transported them to the Soviet Union. The surprising return of the paintings in 1955/56 as well as the return of the majority of the remaining holdings in 1958 enabled the Dresden collections to build on with their past.

Today, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden consist of the following museums: the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), the Kupferstich-Kabinett (Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs), the Münzkabinett (Coin Cabinet), the Rüstkammer (Armoury), the Staatliche Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen (State Ethnographical Collections) with locations in Dresden, Leipzig and Herrnhut, the Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection), the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments), the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), the Skulpturensammlung (Sculpture Collection), the Galerie Neue Meister (New Masters Gallery), the Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst mit Puppentheatersammlung (Museum of Saxon Folk Art with Puppet Theatre Collection) as well as the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts). Moreover, the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library), the Kunstfonds (Art Fund) and the Gerhard Richter Archiv (Gerhard Richter Archive) are parts of the museum institution.