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Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden (Ethnographical Museum Dresden)

The Dresden ethnographical museum, the Völkerkundemuseum, has its roots in the distant past. When August I, Elector of Saxony, founded the Kunstkammer in 1560, he laid the foundations for today’s museum. The items collected by him and his successors reflect their desire for ostentatious courtly display and their fascination with exotic and curious objects. From the 18th century onwards collecting was carried out in a systematic way according to scientific criteria. The year 1875 is regarded as the year of the museum's foundation. It holds an important collection of non-European works of art which is of international importance. Since 1977 changing exhibitions of objects from among its holdings have been held in the Japanisches Palais.

Even just a brief glance at a few exhibits testifies to the high quality of the fascinating objects. Take for example the carved and painted house beams from the Palau Islands in the Micronesian region of the South Seas, which were acquired in 1881. The naturalist Carl Gottfried Semper had discovered them after a shipwreck on these remote Pacific islands and later brought them to Dresden. The beams were part of a men’s club house. The coloured bas-relief decor shows mythical and erotic themes and it so impressed members of the Expressionist Dresden artists’ group “Brücke” that Max Pechstein was inspired to travel to Palau himself. Or take the 3.4 m long Malangan Boat from the island of Tabar which is now part of Papua and New Guinea. The boat is one of the highlights of the museum, being unique in the world. The collector and South Seas explorer Richard Parkinson gave the boat to Dresden as a gift in the 19th century, along with a rich collection of masks and carvings. Another outstanding item is the Kris with an ivory grip from the island of Java, now part of Indonesia. This dagger of Javanese origin was already owned by the electors of Saxony at the end of the 17th century.

The Dresden Völkerkundemuseum has breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating things to view and admire. However, the objects also reflect the everyday life of distant cultures and thus contribute to the development of understanding between the distant and the near, between them and us, and between the past and the present.

The Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden with the Damascus Room is currently closed for restoration works. A new special exhibitions program is scheduled in September 2016.

  • History of the Collection

    The Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, founded in 1875, now has its home in the Japanisches Palais, an impressive complex of buildings located just a few hundred metres downstream from the “Golden Rider”, the equestrian statue of August the Strong. Between 1875 and 1945 the museum was accommodated in the Dresden Zwinger and also had rooms for special exhibitions in the Orangery on Ostra-Allee. When Dresden was destroyed in 1945, the museum not only lost its premises but also a number of objects. A period of compromises and interim solutions began. In 1957 the transfer to the Japanisches Palais was completed. However, since part of the building was still in ruins, only offices and storerooms were available. Therefore, the fascinating holdings of the museum could only be displayed in travelling exhibitions – an unsatisfactory state of affairs for a collection of international standing. It was not until 1977 that a provisionally fitted out exhibition room became available in the Japanisches Palais. Since then around a hundred thematic exhibitions have been held, attracting a wide range of visitors. The holdings of the collection (90,000 objects and 70,000 images) embraced the regions of Oceania, Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe. In 1999 the museum's collections were provided with a new domicile in the newly built storage and functional building known as the “A.-B. Meyer-Bau” in Dresden-Klotzsche. During the 30 year tenure (1874-1904) of A. B. Meyer and as a result of the expeditions initiated by him between 1908 and 1931, the collections were considerably enlarged. The museum's holdings were further increased after 1990, particularly as a result of several collecting expeditions to Brazil, New Guinea and Tunisia.