Leonard Joel’s Head of Decorative Arts Takes Us Into The Green Vault


The Grunes Gewolbe (Green Vault) Museum


With the current travel restrictions, I have become nostalgic reflecting over my former travels and adventures overseas. The place that comes front of mind the most is Dresden, one of the porcelain capitals of Germany, which is also the birthplace of The Grunes Gewolbe (Green Vault) Museum. Although the name leaves little to be desired, the Green Vault is literally a treasure trove, founded in 1723 by Augustus the Strong as one of the first public museums and contains an extensive collection of precious objet d’art. The museum was recently in the public eye over its 2019 jewels heist, which is mysteriously yet to be solved.

What sets the Green Vault aside from other museums in my opinion, besides the extraordinary collection within its walls; is that it has lived through the severe bombings of World War 2 resulting in three of the original eight exhibition rooms being rebuilt.

The museum is now divided into two sections, The Historic Green Vault, which is composed of ten lavish Baroque rooms, and The New Green vault, a modern labyrinth consisting of twelve exhibition rooms. Each have rooms dedicated to specilaized and labour intensive artistry using materials such as amber, ivory, silver and precious stones such as rock crystal, not to mention the exquisite jewels and armour collection.

It is challenging to pinpoint highlights from the collection as every room is almost as impressive as the last, however two pieces come to mind because of their stunning craftmanship, firstly the Cup as Daphne with Coral Tines. I distinctly remember viewing this piece in awe of its elegance and how well the artist captured Daphne’s transformation into a tree. This objet d’art is inspired by Ovid’s tale of  the nymph Daphne’s desire to escape the unrequited love from the God Apollo and her metamorphosis into a Laurel tree. Crafted by silversmith Abraham Jamnitzer in late 1580s, it is comprised of finely cast parcel- gilt silver with generous Italian red coral mounts, the piece separates at the waist to reveal a cavity than can be used as a drinking vessel.

The second piece that is often referred to as a highlight and cannot be overlooked is The Golden Coffee Service, being a synthesis of perfection, and truly captures the German theory of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, translating to a ‘total work of art’. Crafted between 1697-1701, the 45-piece centerpiece is cast in silver and gold, with enamel decoration and further embellished with over 5600 diamonds along with other precious stones, and flanked by four ivory figures.

The Green Vault is undoubtedly one of Germany’s most celebrated museums and is thought to be the longest surviving princely art collection in Europe, therefore it is a must see for any ‘treasure’ enthusiast.

Although I have only shared two of my favourites, there are thousands of rare pieces in The Green Vault that are worth noting, and with this in mind I am happy to share that the majority of the collection has been digitized online and virtual tours are accessible via the Green Vault website. I strongly urge any interested party to take an leisurely afternoon to peruse the catalogue, and I hope it leaves the same impression on you as it did me.

CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts

Image above:
Cup as Daphne with coral tines, Nuremberg, around 1580 – 1586
Credit: bpk Berlin / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Jürgen Karpinski