Thursday, November 12, 2009

Der Dresdner Zwinger

[ The Zwinger Palace of Dresden ]

Augustus the Strong – then the elector of Saxony – made a grand tour through France and Italy in the late 1600’s before returning to Dresden and solidified his election to become King of Poland. During Augustus' visits to France, King Louis XIV had also completed moving the French royal court to the palace of Versailles, and Augustus fancied a spectacular royal grounds for himself as well.

This led to the construction of Der Dresdner Zwinger – The Zwinger – an enormous and beautiful fortress and one of the most important pieces of Baroque architecture in Germany.

Like the Frauenkirche, the Zwinger was largely destroyed during the fire-bombings of ’45 [ but the art collections were evacuated to safety]. The people of the city were able to vote and overpower the plans to use the land for architecture of socialist realism in the former GDR to ensure the structure would be rebuilt.

Today, the fortress is a marvel of rebuilt architecture and is utilized as a huge museum. The Zwinger has a beautiful courtyard and grounds that were used for royal engagements where we were told exotic fruits were brought to the palace for extravagant parties with music popular in the times.

The luxuriousness of the palace was very exciting and it had beautiful corners at every turn. I can only imagine how pretty it must be in the spring and summer when the fountains are flowing and the grounds are covered with the colors of the gardens.

The moat and gate of the palace is famously adorned by a huge crown over the archway.

As part of our weekend activities, we all received passes to the museum and had an entire afternoon to spend there. Filled with masterpieces from France, Germany, Italy and other European nations ranging from the renaissance to modern art, the Zwinger is one of the highlights of cultural life in Dresden.

[ Unique perspective of Dresden centuries ago when the Frauenkirche was the most prominent building in the skyline ]

Within the museum I was able to witness works of Canaletto and Raphael and found myself becoming absorbed in reading the side plaques in German and English grasping the opportunity to see so many fantastic images, and read their stories in German only using the English when I needed a crutch [ or if it was even available!]

The treasure of the museum is Raphael’s Italian High Renaissance work The Sistine Madonna. This painting, locked away by Hitler during WW2 and eventually finding its way to Russia after the war and vaulted by Stalin now hangs back in Dresden. It was believed to be a decoration for the tomb of Pope Julius II.

The famous work shows the virgin Mary in a holy realm with St. Sixtus and Barbara at her sides creating an image of a descending Mary over our Earthly realm.

Possibly most famous in the painting are the two observing Cherubs at the bottom of the scene that have been replicated in modern times, especially during the holiday seasons.

The museum also had interesting modern art exhibits, including Georg Baselitz’s Women of Dresden.

This exhibit featured modern art interpretations about the citizens of Dresden, mainly women, after the catastrophic bombings that took place throughout the city. Being modern art, it was difficult to interpret, but with some background information about the artist, the art began to take on a more profound meaning.

It is true that time and the zeitgeist predominate, but an artist must endeavor to escape from that zeitgeist. What I have never been able to escape is Germany and the fact of being German. It is a fact that unpleasantly clings to you, whether you like it or not. I have realized that no matter how beautiful your pictures are, you cannot dissociate yourself from this, even by emigrating. That is just the way it is. The consequence for me, with regard to my work, was that I ultimately gave up dissociating myself from it. I have completely immersed myself in this matter of being German - and I continue to do so today.

Georg Baselitz

Speech at the Albertina, 2007 [ quote was the introduction to the exhibit ]

The artist portrayed the inner struggle of the German psyche after the war, and the difficult journey it was to represent the nation, and himself as a citizen of the country. It was an interesting exhibit to see, especially with so many thoughts about German reconstruction and reunification this weekend, and a lot to ponder about as I walked through other halls filled with other incredible works in European history.

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