Today, travelling is simply part of life, and looking at famous original works of art in places like Italy and France has become part of the vacation experience for many people. In the sixteenth century, travelling was still a privilege that not even princes took for granted. And so small-scale bronze sculptures played a significant role: With them, one was looking at well-crafted, valuable copies of famous sculptures irrespective of where the originals were located, and they came to the Dresden Kunstkammer above all in the form of gifts.
One example is the version of the famous Laocoön group from the Vatican on display at the Semperbau. With Filarete’s mid-fifteenth-century equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius, modelled on the sculpture which long stood on the Capitoline Hill of Rome, the Skulpturensammlung even holds the oldest surviving small bronze sculpture from the Renaissance.
At the Semperbau, these sculptures, whose origin ranges from antiquity to the Baroque period, form part of the permanent display, in which they enter a unique dialogue with the paintings that are presented here. Comparing the two genres shows how they have always been mutually stimulating. Ancient sculpture in particular was a great source of inspiration for Renaissance and Baroque painters. Plaster casts of famous artworks were made to be studied independently of the location of the originals. This practical purpose did not lessen their quality, something that the courtly painter Anton Raphael Mengs appreciated: He collected more than 800 of these plaster casts, which came to Dresden from Rome after he died.
Approximately half of them have survived, making Mengs’s collection the largest extant holdings of historical plaster casts from the eighteenth century in the world. They were first exhibited at the Semperbau from 1857 to 1889, and today 120 of the casts are displayed once more in this location, including the Apollo Belvedere and the Torso Belvedere, whose originals can be found at the Vatican Museums.