Friday 21 March 2014

Dresden Thoughts

I'm currently looking up at the sky. Reclining in the welcome silence of the hotel's quiet room with a cup of fruit tea. It's a fabulous place to collect one's thoughts and anticipate the weekend to come. The art historical odyssey of tomorrow and Sunday was merely words on a page today; though at least we know where we're going.

This visit has a purpose. Last year in Paris I came across a very special object in the Musee de la Renaissance. The Elector of Saxony's wire drawing bench is a perfect MA dissertation topic and I started work on it straight away for my summer report. You can take a lot from books and journal articles, but to truly get under the skin of a patron and his works, you have to see his place. His home. His culture. So here I am, banging on the door of the Royal Palace.

The recent history of Dresden is well known so I'm not going to revisit that specifically, only where it collides with my thoughts. The immediate sense of this city is a slick modernity; immaculate underground shopping precincts, shiny fashionable chain stores, glitzy galleries. But the green spaces and city squares open up the views and make for a pleasant serenity. An old new and new old combine in black sandstone and red roofs, with spotless pink and white paint. Colourful horse drawn carriages clatter down the cobbled streets. There is a danger of a Disneyesque pastiche. 

Crossing the square towards the Frauenkirche, the evidence of ongoing building and renovation is clear. The excavations show elaborate passageways, tunnels and archways. This is fascinating and for the first time I got a feeling of the age of this city. As we took in the exterior of each art gallery, from the Lipsiusbau, Albertinum, then back towards the Zwinger, I had to remind myself of the effort which had gone into the reconstruction / renovation of these buildings. Some of the putti on the Zwinger still gleam with newness, their rough edges still evident. It is unfair to judge these chubby newbies by the standards of Italy's ancient cherubs, after all, they need time to soften. 

Or not. The interior of the Kreutzkirche is deliberately left rough and unfinished...and emotionally raw as a consequence.

Looking up at the black spires and down at the new grass, the renewal of this city is happening as I write. The crowds are not yet here; it is early enough in the season. So as we climbed the spire of the Kreutzkirche, the mellifluous bells which have just chimed six, we were the only ones. Admiring the dark stone close up, touching them, marking their miraculous escape, was a quiet moment of reflection. Or merely a pause to catch one's breath after so many stairs. 

The view from the top took in the Elbe, the Frauenkirche, Rathaus, palaces and royal residence. And the modern city held its own in the view, unlike some vistas which are marred by unsympathetic new architecture. Somehow the wounds have closed leaving a harmonious whole. There are still parts which remind us of a chequered past but even they tell a story. The modern old parts just need to take on the gentle patina of age.

Which brings me back to my bench, whose wooden marquetry glows with life and history. I hope tomorrow to see the objects which would have occupied the suite of rooms which made up Elector August's Kunstkammer. Not just the ivories, glass, gold and silver, but the lathes and instruments which they used to create such elaborate objects. This is a city in which I feel I'm looking up and down, backwards and forwards, which is probably a good place to start with a patron as incredible as Elector August.

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