Inspired by the bravery of the Ottoman armies, he dressed up as a sultan and held elaborate ceremonies, with horses decked out in oriental jewels and nobles in costume. August (1670-1733) may have slept in a caftan, and he had a Turkish mistress, Fatima. He drank coffee, ate Turkish sweets and ordered Persian wines.
His passion for “Turquerie” extended to oriental treasures -- bejeweled weapons, armor, extravagant horse trappings and sumptuously embroidered tents. The 600 objects from his collection that survive went on permanent display for the first time since World War II, on Sunday, in a renovated section of Dresden’s royal palace.
The palace was home to the Saxon electors and kings from 1485 until 1918. Bombed to its foundations in the devastating Allied campaign of 1945, it’s undergoing gradual restoration that is expected to be completed by 2013. The Historic Green Vault, displaying August’s jewels, ivory, crystal, gold and silver, reopened in 2006.
The opening of the Tuerckische Cammer marks the next step in the restoration. A magnificent 17th-century tent that visitors can walk through is a highlight. August used it for state ceremonies and banquets, and with its shimmering appliqued interior and gilded leather, it’s a far cry from the average Saxon beer tent. The inside is decorated in panels framed by columns, arcades and lushly colored flowers, designed to evoke the Garden of Paradise.
The tent must have belonged to a sultan, although it isn’t known which one, Holger Schuckelt, the curator of the exhibition, said in an interview. Sixty-five feet long and 19 feet high, it was packed away and stored during the war. Soviet troops took it to Russia, along with hundreds of thousands of other museum objects, and it was returned to Dresden in the 1950s, with some parts missing.
The restoration cost more than $4.7 million -- still only a fraction of the tent’s value -- and was partly funded with aid granted to Dresden after the Elbe flooded in 2002. The tent had to be rescued from a storage room that was knee-deep in water, Schuckelt said.
August acquired some of his collection as gifts, some as war booty and some through purchases. Dresden has recreated five life-size Arabian stallions with real horse hair to show off the gem-studded trappings used for the king’s elaborate festivities.
A painting by Johann Alexander Thiele bears witness to the 1730 Zeithain Encampment -- August’s mammoth military review, comprising row upon row of Ottoman-style tents and soldiers kitted out with oriental-style Saxon weaponry.
Among the opulent bejeweled swords, cutlasses, shields, scabbards and guns with engraving, ivory and precious inlays, four simple leather pouches stand out. They are the only known remaining examples of such drinking vessels from the era.
The collection also has the only Ottoman bows whose strings are still intact. Schuckelt explained that making these simple weapons was far more complex than manufacturing the ornate guns because of the expertise needed in treating the wood to create sufficient tension.
The bows also were more effective: Ottoman archers could fire arrows as far as 1,300 meters, in much faster succession than it took to reload the guns.
One of the grisliest exhibits is a strangulation cord -- the method of execution used for noblemen in the Ottoman Empire. The victim’s head was placed in a noose with two cords, one on either side, to tighten it. The cords would be pulled simultaneously to cut the throat.
According to Schuckelt, it was preferred by those sentenced to die because it was quicker than hanging and left the body less mangled for the afterlife than, for example, beheading.
The Tuerckische Cammer opened on Sunday. For more information, go to http://www.skd.museum. © Bloomberg News 2010