Giambologna's bronze statuette Mars once again held by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

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Giambologna's bronze statuette Mars once again held by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
The small bronze, which is one of the oldest items held by the museum complex, came to Dresden in 1587 as a personal gift of the artist Giambologna to Elector Christian I of Saxony. © SKD, Photo: Oliver Killig.

DRESDEN.- For more than 300 years, the statuette of the warrior god Mars, created by the Renaissance artist Giambologna (1529–1608), was part of the art collection of the Saxon electors. Nearly 100 years ago it entered private ownership. Today it has returned to Saxony and, now owned by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD), is being presented to the public. Before the bronze statuette is put on display at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in the Semperbau when the museum reopens in December 2019, it will “travel” the Free State of Saxony. The “welcome-home tour” will start at the Stadt- und Bergbaumuseum Freiberg, where, starting today, the Mars will be on view until 31 March. Later in the year, it will be presented at Schloss Hartenfels in Torgau and, finally, at the Schlossbergmuseum Chemnitz.

The small bronze, which is one of the oldest items held by the museum complex, came to Dresden in 1587 as a personal gift of the artist Giambologna to Elector Christian I of Saxony. In 1924, the sculpture became subject to the so-called Fürstenabfindung, an expropriation of the German aristocracy, whereupon it entered private ownership. In 1983, it became the property of Bayer AG.

The SKD has been able to re-acquire the Mars statuette thanks to a great collaborative effort. Critical financial support came from the Free State of Saxony, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Friends of the SKD.

Professor Marion Ackermann, Director General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, states: “With the ‘Dresden Mars’ by Giambologna, Saxony is getting back a recognized masterpiece of Italian Renaissance sculpture – a rare confluence of artistic brilliance and historical relevance. This, incidentally, is the only thing that can account for an unparalleled rescue operation having been orchestrated at the very last minute. I am deeply grateful to all partners who joined in this coordinated acquisition for their outstanding effort. This artwork of national value now belongs to the public and we can feel certain that it will be accessible to all at the place of its historical destiny.”

Prof. Monika Grütters, Minister of State for Culture and the Media, expressed her satisfaction: “It counts as a great success that we, together, have been able to bring this precious small bronze back to the place where it historically belongs, back to Saxony. The overwhelming collaborative effort is a clear declaration of culture and an expression of a powerful ‘cooperative federalism’ in Germany. The federal government, too, made a strong commitment in the repurchase of the artwork and has made a considerable financial contribution to help achieve the required sum. Because of its unique artistic and historical significance, the famous Renaissance figure is today considered emblematic of our history, making it one of the outstanding cultural assets of the Federal Republic of Germany.”

Michael Kretschmer, Prime Minister of the Free State of Saxony, states: “It's wonderful that the Mars is back in Saxony. My thanks go to all those who made this possible. I am also pleased that this unique sculpture will be on view in Freiberg and then elsewhere in the Free State. Our cultural treasures are at home not only in the big cities but in the whole of Saxony. It’s a good thing that the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden have seized on this notion and keep reaching out.”

Dr. Martin Hoernes, Secretary General of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, is pleased: “Immediately before auctions, the flexibility and generosity of our art foundation, as desired by its founder, prove valuable. This means that important funding decisions can be made within a few days, and in the case of highly valuable works, even within hours. Giambologna’s Mars is one of those exceptional works of art, and the legacy of the patron and entrepreneur Ernst von Siemens, as well as the generous support of Siemens AG, made it possible to seize the opportunity to purchase with determination and in the short term.”

Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert, Secretary General of the German Federal Cultural Foundation, says: “Giambologna’s Mars in its outstanding artistic quality will not only captivate visitors to the Dresden Sculpture Collection. The return of the work, which is historically significant to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, supplies yet another reason why the SKD will remain an important destination for international art history research.”

Saxony's Minister of Arts Eva-Maria Stange would like to thank all the donors for their commitment: “The Mars is a national cultural asset, of great historical value to Saxony and a sculpture of great beauty and grace. I therefore thank all public and private supporters for having enabled this purchase in such an uncomplicated and timely manner. As the sculpture once again belongs to the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, its presentation to the public is guaranteed forever.”

Sven Krüger, Lord Mayor of Freiberg, emphasizes: “I am proud that the silver town of Freiberg is the first to publicly present Giambologna’s Mars. This is to say that for a few weeks, the Mars sculpture is returning to the place which, with its silver, brought glory and splendour for all of Saxony.”

The happy return of the ‘Dresden Mars’ provides an opportunity to draw attention to a Saxon art monument of great significance, which would probably not exist in this form without the inspiration of Giambologna’s small bronze: the burial place of the House of Wettin in the east choir of the Freiberg Cathedral. At the request of Christian I, this chapel was decorated with life-size bronze statues created by Carlo di Cesare del Palagio (1538–1598), a pupil of Giambologna, who had been specially brought to Freiberg from Florence. Usually closed to the public, the burial chapel is now open during the presentation of Giambologna’s Mars in Freiberg and can be visited using the regular museum ticket.

The acquisition of the bronze statuette for the SKD was co-financed with tax revenue in accordance with the budget passed by the members of the Saxon Landtag.

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