Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister  

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Sleeping Venus (c. 1510, detail) Giorgione
Sleeping Venus (c. 1510, detail) Giorgione

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The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (English: Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden (Germany) features numerous major works of art history. Therefore it belongs to the world’s most renowned art collections.

It is part of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (English: Dresden State Art Collections) beside ten further museums (e.g. Grünes Gewölbe, Kupferstichkabinett and Rüstkammer), owned by the State of Saxony.


Highlights of the collection

History of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

History of the Collection

When the “Kunstkammer” of the Electors of Saxony in Dresden was founded in the 16th century, paintings were treated subordinate next to collector’s pieces from all areas of science, other art works and curiosities.

First Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony, and his son Frederick Augustus II started to collect paintings in a systematical way.

Many of the paintings were illegally appropriated in Poland in the 1720s by Frederick Augustus I, like two paintings by Rembrandt - Portrait of a Bearded Man in Black Beret (1657 also known as the Portrait of a Rabbi) and Portrait of a Man in the Hat Decorated with Pearls (1667), both originally in the collection at Royal Castle in Warsaw.

The fast growing painting collection finally required more space for storing and presentation. Therefore new representative rooms had to be found.

In 1745 the stock has been enriched by the Duke of Modena’s (Francesco III) 100 best pieces of his collection. During the same year it began the reorganization of the “Stallhof” (Electors’ stable building) nearby the Frauenkirche, where the artworks were exhibited since 1747.

In the meantime the collection had achieved European fame. Paintings from all over Europe, for instance from Italy, Paris, Amsterdam and Prague, came to Dresden. The purchase activities of the Electors have been crowned by the acquisition of Raphael’sSistine Madonna” in the year 1754. Until today most of the visitors see this painting as the highlight of the exhibited masterpieces.

On September 25th of 1855 the “Neues Königliches Museum” (New Royal Museum) opened in the Semper building where the gallery is located until today.

In World War II the paintings had to be sourced out. Thus the artworks were mostly safe in comparison to the gallery building itself which was heavily damaged in February 13th of 1945.

The Stone Breakers was destroyed in the Bombing of Dresden, February 1945.

At the end of World War II, in the time of the Soviet occupation, many of the pictures were taken to Moscow and Kiev. They were returned to the GDR by the Soviet Union in 1955/56. There is, however, a large number of pictures still missing or possibly destroyed.

Building History

In the Semper Gallery the old masters’ pictures are presented to the public. The long-stretched building in neoclassical style is situated in the center of Dresden nearby the river Elbe.

The gallery building adjoins the Zwinger buildings. It faces the Zwinger courtyard in the south and in the north it borders the Theaterplatz (Opera Place) with the famous Semperoper (Semper Opera House), as well as the Schinkelwache, the Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle) and the Katholische Hofkirche (Catholic Court Church).

In 1844 the groundwork for the Gottfried Semper designed gallery building was laid. Its style is a reminiscence of the Italian Palazzi of the Renaissance.

The sculptors Ernst Rietschel and Ernst Julius Hähnel from Dresden were advised to do the implementation of the plastic front decoration. In comparison to the antique themes at the northern facade, the southern front shows Christian religious themes.

The visitor enters the gallery through a heavy wooden door with a stone bas-relief depicting Cupid and Psyche in the rounded arch above it.

See also

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