Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Hotels - Europe III, Dresden

Dresden, Art’otel ($83.60, free wifi, but breakfast is more)

I had hesitated to book this one, although an art hotel sounds exactly like what I would want and it seemed relatively close to the main sights. But several reviews on Trip Advisor expressed concern and even horror about the multiple images of men with penises displayed all around the hotel and advised that the hotel may not be appropriate for children . We decided to chance it, only to be amazed that the entire hotel is filled with paintings and prints by the major German artist A.R. Penck. Indeed, there are a great many men with penises, the man at the desk said that only one of the images doesn't have a penis) , but the reviews had neglected to mention that they are stick figures in nearly abstract compositions. We had two prints in our room and prints and large paintings decorate all the public spaces. Going to the hotel was almost like going to a contemporary art exhibition. The décor of the restaurant, Factory, imitates Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can designs. The stylish rooms have very designy furniture and bathroom fixtures. I loved the round sink and shower, even though there was no place to put the soap. Free internet and paid parking conveniently under the building. ,

Two long blocks from the Zwinger (below), the Art’otel is also very convenient to the most important sites in Dresden, which are amazing.

The Dresden painting galleries hold masterpieces from all over Europe from the Renaissance to the 18th century. The core of the collection is the creation of Augustus the Strong, who patronized Lucas Cranach and purchased Renaissance and later paintings, and his successor Augustus III, who purchased the collection of Francesco d'Este, Duke of Modena, in 1745 and Raphael's Sistine Madonna in 1754. I’d expected to see the Sistine Madonna, and the famous Bernardo Bellotto landscape paintings of 18th-century Dresden, but not the huge collection of Cranachs, the four huge Correggio altarpiecess, the Parmigianino, two Andrea del Sartos, several major Annibale Carraccis, major Rembrandt and his school, Rubens, Van Dyck, a couple of Vermeers, Poussins, and the amazing little Jan van Eyck Madonna in a Church. There's a room full of pastel portraits by Rosalba Carriera, an important woman artist of the 18th century who depicted many people at the Dresden Court. And there’s a very pleasant museum café, Alte Meister, right there. It was only from reading the souvenir book about the collection that I learned that the building had been nearly destroyed in the 1945 bombing of Dresden, the paintings and porcelains taken to the Soviet Union and returned in 1955, and the Paintings Gallery reopened in 1956 and again in 1992 after a renovation.

Augustus the Strong’s porcelain collection is overwhelming; he collected more than 20,000 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, including the 152 monumental blue and white Chinese vessels that he traded from Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia for 600 Saxon soldiers. It was Augustus who oversaw the invention of Meissen porcelain in 1708 by Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682–1719). The Zwinger just opened a reinstalled collection in June, 2010 and it is a stunning display, with hundreds of objects in cases and on wall sconces in the light-filled arcades of the building. It is a contemporary interpretation of the historical designs for the display of the collection .

The Green Vaults, old and new, contain more spectactular objets d’art than I’ve seen anywhere. Rooms of amber, ivory, silver, gilt silver, precious objects, coats of arms, jewels, and bronzes, all carefully and conscientiously reconstructed or restored and reopened to the public only four years ago. We wandered into the New Green Vaults galleries without expecting much and were overwhelmed by the enormous number and completely over-the-top luxury of the objects, some made of semi-precious and precious stones, amber, gilt silver, and minutely-patterned enamel. There's a large model of a galleon all in ivory, including the large sails. A great many of these spectacular baubles were made by the goldsmith Johan Melchior Dinglinger (1664-1731), who often spent years designing and constructing his wondrous creations in collaboration with his younger brothers. By the time we got to the piece-de-resistance, the Throne of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb (who ruled India at the time Augustus the Strong ruled Dresden) - a minute model in enamel, precious metals, and precious stones, including 5,233 diamonds - we just gave it a glance and moved on.

Seeing the Zwinger, Semper, Hofkirche (above), and Residence Palace lit up at night left me speechless. The rebuilt Semper Opera House is a stunning replica of the 19th-century original, with excellent seating and acoustics.
We attended an excellent performance of Verdi's Falstaff there, in Italian with German subtitles and a stark, European minimal production. We found the newly opened Albertinum, restored after the 2004 flood damage, somewhat puzzling it its organization, but appreciated the open storage of sculpture and the strong collection of Kaspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries.  We also enjoyed the huge and amazingly restored Frauenkirche, although the faux marble there seemed more unlikely than most in its pink, yellow and blue tones. As we explored the city center further, we found other hotels near the newly reconstructed Frauenkirche, but the Art’otel still seems a great deal. Three nights was inadequate time to do Dresden even minimal justice. We missed many sites, as well as many parts of the art collections, but what we saw was exceptional, enlightening, and inspiring.

To keep the price down, we skipped hotel breakfast in Dresden and instead had coffee and rolls at one of the cafes in town. Having stuffed ourselves on sauerbraten and duck with dumplings and cabbage at every meal, we were really ready for a smaller breakfast; and eating outdoors in the lovely weather was great.

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