Museum Stories

Green Vault Theft: Dresden Stolen Jewels

Isla Phillips-Ewen 23 November 2021 min Read

On Tuesday, November 25 2019, burglars broke into the Green Vault museum, at the Royal Palace Dresden, Germany, and stole priceless jewels! This is possibly one of the most serious art thefts since World War II because of the historical value of the 18th century jewelry in question. Here is the story of Dresden’s stolen jewels!

“This heinous thievery robs all humanity.”

Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.

Dresden Stolen Jewels
August Gotthelf Globig, Aigrette for the Hair in the Form of a Sun, 1782-1807, 127 Brilliants, Silver, Green Vault Museum, Dresden, Germany.

The Audacious Theft

Germany Treasure Stolen
German police investigate at Dresden’s Green Vault museum. LA Times/Associated Press Images.

The police believe that a nearby fire at an electrical junction box, early in the morning, was a decoy, which disabled the alarm system and put out streetlights. In under two minutes, they quickly smashed a window, broke into the display case, and fled with the priceless jewels. Fortunately, some jewels are safe, because they were either sewn into their display cases or are currently on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

map
View of the two crime scenes in Dresden, Germany. BBC.

The fact that the Green Vault, and its collection, survived the bombing of Dresden in World War II, makes this theft even more shocking.

Priceless

The museum has not given a figure for the value of the jewels, as they are genuinely priceless. Their historical importance and impact as part of a collection are irreplaceable.

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Christian August Globig, Great bustle of Queen Amalie August 1782, 51 large, 611 small brilliants, silver, gold, Green Vault Museum, Dresden, Germany.

The Green Vault

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Historic Green Vault, Jewel Room Display; Cabinet with 3 sets: Diamond jewelry and pearls of queens (left), diamond trim (center), diamond rose decor (right). Photo by Hans Christian Krass.

The Green Vault is part of the Royal Palace, and it now belongs to the German state of Saxony. Named after its colored walls, the museum is a series of eight rooms. They progress in theme from amber to ivory to silver and, finally, to the Hall of Treasures; the scene of the crime. The suite of eight rooms, which are architecturally stunning, were designed to reflect the abundance of the collection. They house thousands of items and so we can be grateful that only a small fraction of the collection is missing.

“The Dresden Museums have taken on an exemplary process of expansion, renewal and re-presentation of the State collections in the last years with an impressive Public relations in public and in general, in the rest of Germany and abroad, as well as the international scholarly community, are all affected by this grotesque robbery and the Green Vaults are a treasure on the National Gallery of London.”

Gabriele Finaldi, Director, The National Gallery, London.

Jewels of Power

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Christian August and August Gotthelf Globig, Sword (diamond rose), 1782-1789, Green Vault Museum, Dresden, Germany. Photo by Jürgen Karpinski.

The 18th century collection was that of August the Strong, 1694-1733, a Saxon ruler who later became King of Poland. He made his personal collection public between 1723 and 1729; making the Green Rooms, possibly, the world’s oldest museum (the Vatican lay a claim to this title too). It’s certainly the largest treasure collection in Europe!

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Jean Jacques Pallard, Breast Star of the Polish White Eagle Order, between 1746 and 1749, diamonds, rubies, gold, silver, Green Vault Museum, Dresden, Germany. Photo by Jürgen Karpinski.

After the Holy Roman elector, Moritz of Saxony had ordered the wing to be added to Dresden Castle in 1547, it was used as a private depository throughout the 17th century. During his four-decade-long reign, August the Strong filled the vaults with a variety of pieces ranging in style from Baroque to Classicism.

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Workshop Christian August Globigs, Two domed shoe buckles from the diamond rose garment, 1782-1789, Green Vault Museum, Dresden, Germany. Photo by Jürgen Karpinski.

The pieces establish positions of international power.

“We are devastated by the Green Vault, which are so deeply in the hearts of the people of Dresden, and so important to the cultural history of the world. The Met, and the entire museum community, is hoping for the immediate and safe return of these most important pieces.”

Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The collection of jewels is akin to any other country’s Crown Jewels, except there are more of them!

A Reward of 500,000 Euros

Saxony police are offering a hefty reward for either the capture of the perpetrators or the recovery of the treasures. Sadly, if they are not found soon, it is likely that the jewels will be taken apart, possibly re-cut, and lost forever!

There is some hope, however, in 2018 the Swedish crown jewels were stolen but then found. The thieves left them in a bin because there was too much attention on the items!

Dresden Stolen Jewels
Stolen objects include: Rapier (1782-1789), two curved Shoe Buckles (1782-1789), Brim Ornament (1782-1789), badge (gem) of the Polish Order of the White Eagle (1782-1789), large Diamond Rose, Epaulette (1782-1789) (fragment remaining) and 10 Skirt Buttons (1753) (some remaining). Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. 

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