Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Dresden State Art Collections) is a cultural institution in Dresden, Germany, owned by the State of Saxony. It is one of the most renowned and oldest museum institutions in the world, originating from the collections of the Saxon electors in the 16th century.
The museums belonging to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden originated from the collections of the Saxon electors, several of whom were also Kings of Poland. Historical sources show that August I, Elector of Saxony, founded the electoral Kunstkammer (literally “art chamber”) in 1560, a collection of art located in the Dresden Castle. August the Strong and his son, August III, Kings of Poland, were important patrons and remarkable connoisseurs of the arts. They developed their art collections in a systematic fashion; in the process, they not only provided a foundation of extraordinary masterpieces for the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, but also made these works accessible to select circles in their own time.
The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen has been a state-owned enterprise since January 1, 2009. The association includes twelve museums which operate independently within the context of their own collection, but all share various institutions and facilities as well as a central administration.
Colorful clothing, weapons, jewelry, and other accessories tell many tales of long-forgotten migrations and contacts with different cultures, or of the close relationships involving religious belief, symbolism, and the practicalities of life. Three museums comprise the Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen (Saxonian State Collections of Ethnography): the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden (Ethnographical Museum Dresden); the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig (GRASSI Ethnographical Museum of Leipzig), which was created by the citizens of Leipzig; and the Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut (Ethnographical Museum Herrnhut). The Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden (Ethnographical Museum Dresden)has its roots in the distant past. When August I, Elector of Saxony, founded the Kunstkammer in 1560, he laid the foundations for today’s museum. The items collected by him and his successors reflect their desire for ostentatious courtly display and their fascination with exotic and curious objects. From the 18th century onwards collecting was carried out in a systematic way according to scientific criteria. The year 1875 is regarded as the year of the museum’s foundation. It holds an important collection of non-European works of art which is of international importance. Since 1977 changing exhibitions of objects from among its holdings have been held in the Japanische Palais (Japanese Palace). A tour through the rooms of the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig (GRASSI Ethnographical Museum of Leipzig) is like a journey around the world. The art and everyday life of distant cultures enable visitors to get away from their own day-to-day concerns. In its newly designed rooms in the GRASSI museum at Johannisplatz (John’s square), the museum shows items held in the Saxon ethnographical collections originating from nearly every culture in the world. Since the 19th century works of art and other articles of daily life have been assembled and these are now among the most significant items for preserving the heritage of many cultures. Exotic, precious and sometimes unique exhibits demonstrate the art and ways of life of a world that has moved closer together but which is still largely unfamiliar. The exhibition tour on the first floor provides exciting insights into the reality of life in Indonesia, India, Tibet and Mongolia, China, Japan, Europe and the Orient. The second tour takes visitors through Africa, America, then on to Australia and Oceania, thus completing the journey around the world. The museum’s famous collections of exceptional objects relating to Siberian shamanism, oriental jewellery and the works of art of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as about the Indian Andaman and Nicobar Islands transport the visitor to distant and fabled worlds. The Völkerkundemuseum in Herrnhut (Ethnographical Museum Herrnhut), which was founded in 1878 preserves unique items that testify to the cultural heritage of Alaska and Africa, Asia and America. From 1732 onwards, members of the Moravian Church (Brüder-Unität) which was founded in Herrnhut, travelled to many different peoples in order to preach them the gospel. Numerous missionaries studied the languages and cultures of the various peoples and brought their fascinating objects back to Germany. These ethnographical collections and the many written observations recorded by the missionaries made an important contribution to the establishment of ethnography as a science. Other disciplines such as linguistics, geography, botany and zoology are also indebted to the missionaries for some of their basic literature. The Staatliche Ethnographische Sammlungen Sachsen (Saxonian State Collections of Ethnography) are part of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) that are among the most prominent museums in the world. The combined holdings of the twelve museums offer the visitor a remarkable thematic diversity, and are situated in Dresden, Leipzig and Herrnhut.