In April 2004, we shared a few thoughts
on this forum about the destruction of the Frauenkirche
in Dresden--the greatest Protestant church in Germany; as central to the Prostestant faith as the Cologne cathedral is to Catholicism--and the city's efforts to resurrect it, true to its original style.
Last Sunday, the Frauenkirche
was finally re-consecrated, thus completing the most visible example of an aesthetic restoration that the 21st century has yet witnessed.
- Click here to read an article about this extraordinary event
As the writer of the above article notes,
"The Frauenkirche was more than just a church. It was a place where Bach and Richard Wagner had played and composed, a fairy-tale structure of soaring spires and graceful lines."
And now, those spires soar once again, for the Frauenkirche has been completely restored to its former glory.
Indeed, anyone looking at images of the new Frauenkirche with no knowledge of history would never know that this is not the same church that stood in the centre of Dresden for centuries.
Identical as they may seem, the building on the right is not the same building as the one on the left (after a cleaning),
but rather, a complete and meticulous reconstruction,
because the original Frauenkirche was atomized by Allied bombing--along with the rest of the "Florence on the Elbe" (as Dresden was known)--in the final days of the war.
Only the colour of the standstone differentiates the old building from the new.
The best indication of what the original Frauenkirche looked like is provided by the following image, which is the only known photograph of the pre-war church that was actually shot in contemporary colour (in an early process called Agfacolor), rather than colourized. The date is between 1943 and 1945:
By the time that the above photograph was taken, the cathedral had stood for over two centuries, and its stone had darkened to a smoky hue, similar to that of Cologne cathedral. But, as this c.1750 painting by the Italian Rococo artist Bernardo Bellotto shows, the original shade of the Frauenkirche's sandstone was the same light ivory colour that one sees in the reconstructed church.
And this is not surprising, since--in another nod to authenticity--the stone of two churches was hewn from exactly the same quarry in Saxony.
The resurrection of the Frauenkirche heals a decades-old wound in Dresden, in more ways than one. As we see in this famous 1839 painting by the Norwegian Romantic artist Johann Christian Dahl, titled Dresden by Moonlight, the Frauenkirche was the absolute centrepiece of the Baroque Dresden skyline.
But for a half-century after the war, that familiar cupola was glaringly absent. With just two amputated stumps of the cathedral still standing, the site of the former Frauenkirche was like an open sore, right in the heart of the city--one that could never heal.
But now, the injury has finally been mended, and the skyline of Dresden is once again whole.
The present author visited Dresden 1997, when the restoration project had barely begun. At that time, the rubble mound was just being excavated--as carefully as if it were an archaeological dig--and the fragments of the original church were being meticulously sorted and organized in enormous steel shelves.
The following image shows that stage of the restoration, along with the scaffolding that surrounded the partially-rebuilt church. As the building was slowly reassembled, the scaffolding was pushed ever higher.
(Note the superimposed graphic of the once-and-future cathedral profile.)
The following photographs, taken after the shell was finished, but before the interior was complete, demonstrate how the standing fragments of the original church were knit seamlessly into the new structure:
Currently, the historic stones and the contemporary blocks are clearly differentiated by colour. But in time, the new stones will darken, and the entire structure will once again present a harmonious aspect.
Here is a particularly touching image of the interior, which shows a fragment of the high altar. Like the external shell of the church, the altar is a synthesis of original fragments and current-day reconstructions. This figure group, showing an angel reaching down to a praying apostle, is especially poignant, for the angel is a gleaming new replica, while the apostle exhibits the darkened aspect of an original piece. The symbolism of the Present reaching across a great divide to touch the Past is very moving.
But perhaps the most powerful image of Dresden that we have ever seen is the following photograph, which was taken during a storm in 2002. At this point, the scaffolding had reached the height of the original cupola atop the cathedral's great dome. The brilliant lightning bolt on the left appears to be striking right through the construction crane, and directly into the superstructure of the Frauenkirche.
It is as if Heaven itself were delivering a charge into the edifice, infusing it with divine power, and summoning it back to life.* * *
The reproduction of the Frauenkirche is so faithful, so meticulously accurate in every detail, that it cannot even properly be deemed an example of Historicist architecture (which would imply that it were a present-day structure inspired by the forms of the past; as Antwerp's Neo-Gothic central station was inspired by the Gothic forms of the Middle Ages.)
Rather, this can only be called an Originalist work (to borrow a term from jurisprudence)--a present-day construction of an 18th-century model. It is not "Neo-Baroque," but Baroque itself--even though it was constructed in our own time.
It may, in fact, be the first purely Baroque structure built in Europe since the original Baroque Era came to an end.
And that makes it the boldest, most exciting architectural project in the world today. Sadly, modern architects no longer erect "fairy-tale structure[s] of soaring spires and graceful lines"--just as poets no longer compose lyrical ballads, and sculptors no longer immortalize full-figured feminine beauty in marble. But by precisely reproducing this magnificent structure of another time, present-day builders have created a masterpiece that equals the unattainable beauty of the architecture of old.
And that points to the still-greater significance of this new Frauenkirche. Not only does it recapture the beauty of the past, but the fact that it was created today, in this generation, and that it stands before us in such a fresh state, gleaming white, and brand-new, makes it alive in a way that historical Baroque art is not. This edifice may be built upon the principles of a bygone era, but it is simultaneously current and contemporary. It is "the latest thing," "up to the minute," "hot off the press," and so forth. It is the beauty of 1743, but created in 2005. It is the "once-and-future aesthetic" made a one-and-present reality.
And in this way, the significance of this cathedral mirrors that of the plus-size model--who physically embodies the Classical ideal of feminine beauty, and brings it to life for us in a way that even Antique sculptures and Old Master paintings cannot.* * *
Artworks are concrete expressions of the ideals of their creators, and of the societies in which they lived. And when we compare the ideals that gave birth to the beautiful Frauenkirche
with the ideologies that shape the world around us today, we may realize that we have lost something vital, in allowing those venerable ideals to fade.
We may even discover a longing for those nobler values of the past. And then, we may strive to restore those timeless ideals, and allow them to enrich our lives once more--as the Frauenkirche
once again uplifts the hearts of all who view it.