The Residenzschloss Dresden (Royal Palace Dresden) is to be augmented by the opening of a magnificent new hall, thereby gaining a major new exhibition area - 280 years after its demise in 1733, the great hall of the Residenzschloss is reborn in the splendid form of the new Riesensaal (Hall of the Giants). The new Riesensaal is a superb setting for a range of magnificent objects selected from the holdings of the Armoury (Rüstkammer) of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, recognised as one of the most important collections of ceremonial weapons, armour and costume in the world. More than 350 objects are displayed, including tournament and ceremonial weaponry and accoutrements. With a specific focus on Saxon court life, the exhibits show how various tournament events were carried out, and illustrate the sporting pursuits of the time and the splendour enjoyed by the Saxon electors.
At 57 metres long and 13 metres wide, the monumental scale of the Riesensaal allows the Rüstkammer not only to exhibit a selection of its finest armour and weapons, dating from the late 15th to the 17th century, but also to present these in ways which show how they were actually used. Originally intended as training for armed conflict, from the end of the 15th century onwards tournaments played a significant role in court ceremonial and festivities. Using unique weapons, tournament swords, lances and armour, scenes from three separate tournaments are recreated, each featuring a different major event—jousting with sharp lances, tilting and a foot tourney. A selection of paintings, commissioned by Christian I (1560–1591) to celebrate tournaments held by his father, Elector August of Saxony (1526–1586), give an authentic depiction of the course of these events. Originally displayed in the Langer Gang (Long Corridor), the arcaded walkway linking the Johanneum and the Residenzschloss, they provide today’s visitors with vivid impressions of these lavish occasions.
The original Riesensaal (Hall of the Giants) was constructed between 1548 and 1553 with the same floor area as its current footprint, in a space previously occupied by the late 15th century ‘Dantzsall’ (dancing hall). The dimensions of today’s Riesensaal follow those of the early Baroque period hall as it was after renovation in 1627, when the ceiling was elevated. The Riesensaal, which took its name from the gigantic figures painted on the pillars between its windows, had enormous spatial significance as a location for court ceremonial. During the reign of August the Strong (1670–1733) the hall provided particularly resplendent surroundings for masked balls and court festivities, including the celebrations of the marriage in 1719 of his son, the electoral prince, who later ruled as August III (1696–1763). During its eventful history the Riesensaal underwent numerous renovations, some at the behest of the electoral family, others due to unforeseen external factors, such as a major fire in 1701. After the death of August the Strong in 1733 the Riesensaal ceased to exist: August III no longer used it for ceremonial purposes, preferring to subdivide the vast space into smaller rooms, including one used as a chapel for the queen.
In his contemporary reinterpretation of the Riesensaal (Hall of the Giants), the architect Peter Kulka and his team have retained the original volume and dimensions of the space, and recreated the form of its impressive barrel-vaulted ceiling. The long-term use of the Riesensaal as an exhibition area for the Rüstkammer (Armoury) , housed from 1959 to 2012 in the Osthalle (East Wing) of the Semperbau at the Zwinger, begins a particularly fitting new chapter in the magnificent story of this historic space. After the creation of the Türckische Cammer, for the Rüstkammer this is the next step in displaying more facets of its unique collection within the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace): for the Residenzschloss, as the former principal residence of the electors and kings of Saxony, it represents another significant advance in the process of bringing it fully back to life in its new incarnation.