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Sculptures in the Semper Building

Mengs collection of casts and masterpieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Semperbau, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister – German Hall and Skulpturengang

The Dresden Skulpturensammlung is one of the most important sculpture collections in the world. Its fame derives not only from its impressive antique sculptures but also from its exceptionally large number of small bronzes from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. These extremely finely worked sculptures were often exchanged as gifts between princely courts, and some of them entered the electoral Kunstkammer in this way as early as the 16th century. Furthermore, these small bronzes were an ideal way of reproducing famous large sculptures on a smaller scale, thus making the composition known to a broader public. As well as smaller versions of popular works by contemporary sculptors such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the works on display here also include reductions of famous antique statues. With the equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius made by Filaretes in the mid-15th century as a copy of the antique original on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden even hold the oldest surviving Renaissance small bronze anywhere in the world.

  • Ausstellungsansicht "Deutscher Saal", Copyright: SKD, Foto: David Pinzer
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • Ausstellungsansicht (Detail), Copyright: SKD, Foto: David Pinzer - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.

Supplemented by impressive portraits of rulers and examples of Saxon Baroque sculpture from the period of August the Strong, this exhibition provides an opportunity to rediscover the splendour of the Dresden collection, which for many years has been hidden away in the storerooms. The works presented in the German Hall (Deutscher Saal) along with the historic casts made by Anton Raphael Mengs demonstrate the extent to which the artists of later periods were inspired by the art of classical antiquity. This applies not only to sculpture but also to the two-dimensional art of painting. Dresden offers the wonderful opportunity to exhibit sculptures and paintings in direct proximity and thus to create fascinating juxtapositions, sharpen our perceptions and generate discussion, in keeping with the spirit of the 16th-century paragone, a passionate debate about the relative merits of sculpture and painting.

Classical antiquity as a model

Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779) was one of the most important painters of the 18th century, the "inventor of neo-classicism" and a passionate collector of plaster casts of antique sculptures. In 1741 Mengs went to Rome, where 11 years later he was to settle and rise to become one of the most sought-after painters of his period in Europe. Among those from whom he accepted commissions were Popes and Cardinals, German princes, and English travellers undertaking their Grand Tour. Only King Carlos III of Spain succeeded in attracting him to Madrid and retaining him there for substantial periods. In 1777 Mengs returned to Rome once and for all, dying there two years later.

  • Ausstellungsansicht "Skulpturengang", Copyright: SKD, Foto: David Pinzer
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • Ausstellungsansicht, Copyright: SKD, Foto: David Pinzer - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.

More than 800 casts from Mengs’ studio in Rome were put up for sale in 1780 and were purchased for Dresden. The majority of works were casts of the most famous antiquities from Rome and Florence. However, the collection also included casts of famous and admired sculptures from the Renaissance and Baroque, such as works by Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini. The large-format casts of entire figures, partial casts of body parts and small-scale copies were intended primarily as models for drawing practice and for the design of figures and postures in paintings, since the basic purpose behind Mengs collection of casts was the study of antiquity and acknowledgement of its exemplary character. Around half the collection has been preserved down to the present day, so that the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden holds the world’s most important collection of 18th-century plaster casts.