Treasures of the Green Vault

Elena Mikhailova

Magazine issue: 
#3 2006 (12)

The unique exhibition titled “The Treasury Cabinet of August the Strong. From the Green Vault Collection, Dresden” (running from May 18 to August 2) that has opened in the Kremlin is one of the most significant events in the cultural life of Moscow.

Held in the Chrism Chamber of the Patriarch's Palace, it is part of the long-term programme called "Royal and Imperial Treasures in the Kremlin” commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Moscow Kremlin Museums that is celebrated this year. Visitors are offered a unique opportunity to see 40 famous works of art: agraffes, aigrettes, clasps and swords from jewellery sets; precious cabinet decorations; famous figurines made of giant Baroque pearls, and three enamel portraits of rulers from the collections of the Saxon Electors and Polish Kings August the Strong and August III. These works are a marriage of luxurious Baroque shapes, with an amazing beauty of unique precious stones and gems and the brilliant craftsmanship of the greatest goldsmiths of the 18th century, primarily Johann Melchior Dinglinger. The Green Vault (Grimes Gewolbe), one of the most spectacular collections in Europe, will open as a permanent exhibition in the reconstructed Dresden Palace in Autumn 2006. When that happens, the Saxon Electors' beloved treasures mean to remain in their newly regained home for some time.

Over 280 years ago August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, decided to open the doors of his treasury and make it available to the public. To achieve this August II ordered the remodeling of the Green Vault of the Dresden Palace.

From the end of the 16th century the "Secret Repository” of the Saxon rulers consisted of four rooms in the representative West Wing of the Dresden Palace. Starting from 1 586 and approximately until 1719 these rooms served as a kind of secret "safe”. They received their name, the Green Vault, from the colour of the interior design. In addition to jewellery they contained various unusual creations of nature, technical innovations, tools, scientific equipment, and self-propelling machines. When in 1698 the Russian Tsar Peter I went on his first tour of Europe he spent his first night in the Saxon capital in the rooms that held such renowned wonders. Peter returned to Dresden time and time again until finally he built his own Kunstkammern - based on the Dresden model - in his new St. Petersburg residence. During their first meeting Peter gave August the Strong a unique large nose-shaped sapphire which to this day remains in the collection.

The future Kurfurst (1670-1733) was the second son of Saxon Elector John George III. August was trained for a military career and received an excellent education. To complete it he traveled to Versailles, Madrid, Lisbon, Turin, Genoa, Venice, Florence and Vienna in the years 1687-1689. These travels made a huge impression on him and helped shape him as a collector, builder and monarch. The French court in Versailles especially impressed him; thanks to King Louis XIV the young August quickly realized the role that jewellery played in displaying a monarch's power and became a passionate collector. In 1697 August became the Elector of Saxony and later, after a long and bloody war - and with the support of Peter the Great - gained the Polish crown. The year 1717 marked the beginning of a cultural bloom in Saxony and Poland, with impressive buildings erected and spectacular collections set up. In 1719 August the Strong made an important political decision: he arranged a marriage between his son and heir and the Archduchess Maria-Josepha of Austria, daughter of the Austrian Emperor. The wedding took place in Dresden and turned into a magnificently staged celebration that lasted for days. The Kur- first decided to "modernize” his rich collection of jewellery for this occasion, and came up with the idea of making his Dresden residence more representative and displaying the artistic treasures it held as a kind of grand and systemized museum treasury. The reconstruction headed by architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelman took place in 1723-1729. The plan which August the Strong personally modified in the spring of 1727 remains to this day. According to that plan the museum was supposed to consist of eight exhibition halls, a functional hall with a cloak-room, a foyer, offices for inspectors and a spacious vault. From the start the collection and interior were inextricably connected. The showpieces stood on consoles and tables of various heights which were symmetrically placed along the multicoloured walls, some of which were decorated with mirror panels. Visitors viewed the Bronze Cabinet, the Ivory Cabinet, the White Silver Cabinet and Gilt Silver Cabinet in succession. The luxury and exclusiveness of the showpieces grew from room to room and reached their peak in the Jewel Cabinet. This room had been the central part of the secret repository for 150 years, when in 1724 a collection of rarities was placed within its walls. These included both treasures August the Strong had inherited from the Vettin Dynasty and those he himself had acquired. The room was filled with vessels made of lapis, agate, jade and white agate, goblets made of mother-of-pearl and ostrich eggs, miniature items made of pearl, ivory, ebony and enamel. Upon reaching the Jewel Cabinet, the last in a sequence of rooms in the Green Vault, the visitor could view the largest collection of jewellery in 18th century Central Europe, a collection like no other in terms of its artistic and material value. The collection of the Saxon Electors and Polish kings which was added to regularly up until the middle of the 18th century was kept in four large show-cases. At the time it contained ten multi-object garnitures with diamond crystals, cut diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, agates, carnelians, plates made of turtle shell, gold and silver. Cabinet decorations executed by the great goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger stood freely on the tables. They added even more luxury to the interior design: the table decoration/model titled "The Court of the Grand Mogul”, several magnificent large bowls, sculptures of two Moors with emerald and Saxon stone floats and, finally, the central piece of the cabinet, "Obeliscus Augustalis”.

August the Strong managed not only to enlarge the family collection but also to raise its artistic value. Upon his orders and that of his son August III a total number of ten jewellery garnitures was executed in 30 years. Nothing equals this set of garnitures: it is the most important part of the museum/ treasury in terms of historical, cultural and artistic value.

The garnitures received their names from the dominating precious stone or setting material (gold or silver). All the details of the garnitures without exception were decorated with small rose or brilliant cut diamonds. Seven of the nine garnitures listed in the very first inventory of 1719 have survived almost completely. Two diamond garnitures that belong to the oldest and most valuable were almost fully redesigned between the years 1782 and 1789 and today they can give only a vague idea of Baroque jewellery and the transition from Rococo to early Classicism. Status- wise these are succeeded by the ruby garniture and then by the emerald, sapphire, carnelian, agate, turtle shell and, finally, the gold and silver hunting garnitures all of which are of somewhat lesser value.

The Kremlin exhibition shows two or three items from each of the seven garnitures. The majority of them were made by one of the most famous jewellers in the world, Johann Melchior Dinglinger. The renowned goldsmith received his training in Vienna and in 1692 came to Dresden. He took up residence with his brothers, Georg Christoph who specialized in cutting and setting jewels, and Georg Friedrich, an enameller. In 1693 he married the daughter of a jeweller and bought a house in the city centre. This finally helped him overcome the unanimous dislike of Dresden goldsmiths and receive the title of master.

In 1697 after his coronation in Poland August the Strong appointed Dinglinger court jeweller. When creating masterpieces for the royal treasury (like the "Golden Coffee Service”, 169 71701, made up of 45 items, and the multi-figure table decoration/model "The Court of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb”, 1701-1708) the jeweller demonstrated exquisite taste, supreme craftsmanship and high intelligence. His works matched the king's requirements perfectly. August the Strong acquired most of the articles his court jeweller produced for his treasury. These included unique garnitures with precious stones and spectacular cabinet decorations that expressed the king's concept of an ideal ruler that Dinglinger embodied with such remarkable accuracy.

August the Strong artfully used his treasures to demonstrate his power and carry out his political ambitions. The state treasury set in precious stones not only satisfied the monarch's high-flying aspirations but also served as a strategic financial reserve which, if needed, could be pledged in order to obtain credits.

Garnitures grew from the Baroque absolutist ensemble principle formed during the reign of Louis XIV, with an abundance of details dictated by the elaborate and sumptuous male clothing of the 18th century.

A garniture always included no less than three dozen buttons for the caftan (outer coat) and the same amount for the waistcoat. It also featured simple or double-faced cufflinks for the wristbands, buttons with particularly beautiful precious stones for shirts, decorated shoe buckles, clasps for culotte trousers, and a hat agraffe or an intricate aigrette later complemented by different buttonholes. Ceremonial armour consisted of a sword in a sheath on an embroidered baldric decorated with jewels. Hunting garnitures were worn to celebration hunting trips, with the sword replaced by a hunting knife. Almost every garniture also included a walking stick and snuffboxes. The only things remaining from the walking sticks, however, are the knobs, and snuffboxes have long become a rarity. Sometimes garnitures were complemented by such accessories as a toiletry case, address book, pocket watch and even an epaulet.

The quantity of jewellery in the state treasury kept growing, with its quality becoming ever higher and higher until the death of August the Strong in 1733. On February 1 1728 August the Strong acquired a diamond called the Saxon White (49.9 ct) from a Hamburg jeweller for 200,000 thaler or "two tons of gold”. Later, between 1782 and 1789, Christian August Globig made it the central part of the Epaulet displayed at the exhibition. The son of August the Strong, August III, enriched the family treasury with several highly valuable diamonds in the years preceding 1763. The Dresden Green alone cost 400,000 thaler. This exceptionally clear stone weighing 41 ct got its unusual celadon-green coloring as a result of the natural radioactivity in the entrails of the earth so the stone is literally a natural wonder. In 1769 Franz Michael Diespach withdrew the Dresden Green from the order of the Golden Fleece and used it to decorate a hat agraffe from the Diamond Garniture. This illustrious piece of jewellery has become the symbol of the exhibition at the Patriarch's Palace.

Of all the jewellery ensembles of August the Strong the Carnelian Garniture contained the most items. The most representative part of the carnelian garniture is the luxurious pocket watch on an elegant gold chain with signets. This watch with the body frame decorated with seven multicoloured precious stones and seven oval carnelian rosettes was made for the Mining, or Saturn Feast. In 1719 it was celebrated on September 26, at the peak of the wedding celebrations of the heir to the throne. Numerous guests were expected and August the Strong decided to show the European community the riches of Saxony that were based on mining. Each gem symbolizes one of the planets known at the time; they are engraved with the signs of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, and, in accordance with the Ptolemaic system, the Sun and Moon. The aigrette also belongs to this garniture. With its mobile crown, trembling gold feathers and a multitude of sparkling diamonds it is the epitome of elegance in court fashion, the gem of an almost completely preserved garniture. Made of carved carnelian with a drop-like diamond in the centre, the plate is shaped like an open rosebud. The flower with stamens at the core looks quite true-to-life and the leaves over it are very ornamental. The sprig with tiny leaves and buds that leans to the right looks almost real and makes the composition more dynamic. The lower plate used to attach the aigrette is decorated with the diamond monogram of August II (A). There is a small tube meant for heron feathers hidden behind the plate.

At the centre of the hunting garnitures are magnificent knives; the hunting knife from the Emerald Garniture was made by Dinglinger. The gold hilt and crosshairs are decorated with an intricate hunting motif that can be found again on the top of the sheath and the agate shell at the base of the blade. The combination of cast gold exotic lion heads and elegant figures of wild animals that inhabited the local woods is quite typical. Both sides of the blade boast an engraving depicting royal deer stalking, the bear, boar, fox and hare hunt. The knife is decorated with nine large emeralds and 78 small diamonds that accentuate the elements of decor. In 1722 a fabulous cabochon emerald acquired by August the Strong in Warsaw was attached to the agate shell of the shield.

The Saxon ruler was proud of his collection of pearl figurines. It contained 50 grotesque figurines and was the largest of his collections, and has been preserved almost completely. The jewellers' imagination and their ability to see artistic appeal in the irregular shape of the pearls were indeed unbounded. The result was figurines from Christian and ancient mythology, real-life and mythological animals. The figurine of a Moor with a Coal-Black Face is striking: the body is made of an unusually large dark Baroque pearl with hues ranging from amber to red-brown. The bottom of the bust is draped with a cape made of turquoise enamel. This cape also covers the back, perhaps so that the defects in the pearl wouldn't be noticeable. There is a tight diamond necklace where the head connects with the torso. Despite the fact that the moor's head is slightly deformed due to a dent on his left temple his face with the diamond eyes looks almost alive.

Cabinet decorations were an object of the Kurfurst's passionate collecting. The upright decoration made of agate and jade with the cameo portrait of a Roman emperor (dated at 41 AD) displayed at the exhibit was one of Din- glinger's later works. It shows classical laconicism and monumentality and the master jeweller's fondness for stone carving which he acquired with the years. In the 18th century the ancient cameo, rare in its size, was seen as the portrait of Emperor Augustus and believed to have a symbolic connection to August the Strong. The king bought this cabinet decoration which he saw as a symbol of fellowship with his Roman namesake in the field of art patronage in 1722 for 12,000 thaler.

The priceless treasures displayed at the Kremlin are perceived as unique masterpieces of 18th century European jewellry.

Charles BOIS. Portrait of King of Poland August II. Most likely Dresden. 1718–1720
Charles BOIS. Portrait of King of Poland August II. Most likely Dresden. 1718-1720
Enamel on copper. 12.7 by 10.1 cm
Johann Melchior DINGLINGER. Hunting Knife with Sheath from the Emerald Garniture. Dresden, the 1720s
Johann Melchior DINGLINGER. Hunting Knife with Sheath from the Emerald Garniture. Dresden, the 1720s
9 emeralds, 78 diamonds, 1 agate; gold, silver, steel, leather. Hunting Knife: length 80cm. Hilt: height 15cm, sheath: length 63.5cm
Unknown artist. Pearl figurine: Battle-axe Holder with Dog. Frankfurt-on-the-Main (?), before 1706
Unknown artist. Pearl figurine: Battle-axe Holder with Dog. Frankfurt-on-the-Main (?), before 1706
Baroque pearl, gold, enamel, silver gilt, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, blue-steel. Height 16 cm
Карманные часы с цепочкой и печатками из карнеолового гарнитура. Ювелирная работа: мастерская Иоганна Мельхиора Динглингера. Дрезден. 1719
Pocket Watch with Chain and Signets from the Carnelian Garniture. Workshop of Johann Melchior Dinglinger, Dresden, 1719
Large Carnelian Rosette; 7 carnelians, 7 gem stones, 57 diamonds, gold, silver. Appr. length 19.7cm, watch diameter
Johann August JORDAN. Badge of the Polish Order of the White Eagle from the Ruby Garniture. Dresden, 1744
Johann August JORDAN. Badge of the Polish Order of the White Eagle from the Ruby Garniture. Dresden, 1744
16 rubies, 480 diamonds; gold, silver, enamel. 10.2 by 7.8 cm
'The Golden Fleece' from the Ruby Garniture. Workshop of Johann Melchior Dinglinger. Dresden, 1722
"The Golden Fleece" from the Ruby Garniture. Workshop of Johann Melchior Dinglinger. Dresden, 1722
3 large balas rubies, 70 diamonds; gold, silver, enamel. 17.9 by 9.5 cm
Sea Unicorn. Frankfurt-on-the-Main (?), before 1725
Sea Unicorn. Frankfurt-on-the-Main (?), before 1725
Baroque pearls, gold, silver, diamonds, rubies; enamel, gold-plating, height 9.5 cm
Stone carving: Johann Christof HUBNER. Jeweller: Johann Melchior DINGLINGER. Hat Aigrette from the Carnelian Garniture. Dresden, before 1719
Stone carving: Johann Christof HUBNER. Jeweller: Johann Melchior DINGLINGER. Hat Aigrette from the Carnelian Garniture. Dresden, before 1719
Large Carnelian Plate with Chinks. 10 round carnelians, 1 diamond drop (3.39ct), 408 diamonds. Height 26 cm; plate width 10.6 cm
Franz Michael DIESPACH. Hat Agraffe with the Dresden Green Diamond from the Diamond Garniture. Dresden/Prague. 1769
Franz Michael DIESPACH. Hat Agraffe with the Dresden Green Diamond from the Diamond Garniture. Dresden/Prague. 1769
In the jewellery made by Jean-Jaques Pallard Celadon-green, almond form diamond weighing 41ct, two large round diamonds, 411 medium and small diamonds; gold, silver





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