Stefano della Bella, Der Tod reitet über ein Schlachtfeld, 1645/48
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, SKD, Foto: Andreas Diesend


The convulsing war between 1618 and 1648 is one of the great traumas of European history. Famine, death and disease brought immense suffering and economic hardship; yet even during this decades-long struggle for religious dominance and political hegemony in Europe, art production did not come to a standstill. Works of art continued to fulfil a variety of functions, serving as representations of power, being exchanged as diplomatic gifts, documenting military encounters, and urging peace.

  • DATES 08/07/2021—04/10/2021
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Die hohe Wertschätzung

The high regard in which art was held meant that it was coveted as spoils of war, especially in these times of crisis. In targeted looting campaigns, the victorious parties appropriated entire collections. The stolen items changed hands multiple times and were transported across Europe, often under hazardous conditions, before reaching their final locations. They are now among the most treasured objects in international museums.


The conflict was ignited by the Prague Defenestration of 1618, escalated into a European war following the Battle of White Mountain near Prague in 1620, and was finally brought to its long-awaited end by the Peace Treaty of Münster and Osnabrück in 1648. Very few original field weapons from this period have survived. An exclusive selection of authentic weapons, including field armour, pistols, swords, and a field gun, illustrate the military practices of the period.

© Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Jürgen Karpinski
Paar Radschlosspistolen, Büchsenmacher Joel H., Frankreich, Anfang 17. Jahrhundert

Auch während des Krieges

Even during the war, the work of artists was much in demand. The victors, for example, had a particular interest in having their battles recorded for posterity through visual images. The artistic methods developed to convey the course of a battle can be studied in detail in paintings and engraved prints.

Kein Krieg

No war prior to the twentieth century brought greater loss of life and more widespread devastation than the Thirty Years’ War: rural areas were depopulated, villages disappeared forever from the map, and cities – such as Magdeburg in 1631 – suffered severe damage and destruction. An entire generation knew nothing but war.

© Kupferstich-Kabinett, SKD, Foto: Andreas Diesend
Stefano della Bella, Der Tod reitet über ein Schlachtfeld, 1645/48 Radierung

So wurden auch

The horrors of war were therefore also reflected in art. As well as drastic visual depictions of pillaging and violence, audio stations with authentic eyewitness accounts convey a vivid impression of the fate of the population. Artists also used pictorial language to make urgent appeals for peace and – like Peter Paul Rubens, for example – communicate clear political messages through their works.

© Vaduz-Vienna, LIECHTENSTEIN, The Princely Collections
Rubens Peter Paul, Allegorie auf den Krieg, um 1628 Öl auf Holz

…et Artes

In changing alliances, the warring parties fought over religion and power in Europe. However, opponents and allies alike were united in one thing: they valued art and knew how to use it for their own interests. Works of art not only served to demonstrate power and claims to sovereignty; they were also exchanged as precious gifts in the pursuit of specific political goals.

Der hohe Prestigewert

Its high prestige value made art an object of desire. Legitimised by the prevailing conceptions of law, the victorious conquerors undertook looting campaigns in countless places. Probably the most spectacular case of looting occurred in 1648, when Swedish troops captured the Lesser Town of Prague and shipped entire wagonloads of paintings, sculptures and treasures especially from the former art collections of Emperor Rudolf II to Stockholm.

The exhibition shows a selection of highly valuable items of looted art from various princely collections and explores the significance of cultural transfer. At interactive multimedia stations, visitors can trace the routes of displaced works from their places of origin to their present-day locations, and the fates of individual artists during the Thirty Years’ War are made vividly tangible.

© Stockholm, Husgerådskammaren, Foto: Lisa Raihle Rehbäck
Globuspokal mit Herkules, Christoph Jamnitzer, 1617/18

Exhibition Tour

Fürstengalerie (The Princes' Gallery)

From the arena of the Thirty Years’ War and depictions of its horrors, the exhibition tour leads to a banqueting table around which the rulers of Europe are gathered together: their history is presented in the mirror of art. This section concludes with a look at European cultural transfer through looted art and migrating artists.


Precious gifts for diverse occasions: During his long reign, Elector Johann Georg I was presented with numerous ornate weapons, prized horses, bridles, and costumes. Many of these gifts have been preserved in the Dresden Rüstkammer. 

Studiolo at Georgenbau

Signed and sealed: original treaties, documents and letters chart the decisive events of the Thirty Years’ War, complemented by selected objects from the Grünes Gewölbe and the Rüstkammer.

The permanent exhibitions also feature numerous other works of art that appear in a new light in the context of »Bellum et Artes«. Specially marked, they form a common thread running through the Dresden Residenzschloss.


Publikation zur gleichnamigen Sonderausstellung

Bellum & Artes. Mitteleuropa im Dreißigjährigen Krieg

Herausgeber: Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; Nationalgalerie Prag; Claudia Brink; Susanne Jaeger; Marius Winzeler; 544 Seiten, etwa 470 Abb.; 28 x 24 cm, Festeinband; Erscheinungsdatum 8.7.2021; ISBN 978-3-95498-605-7; Der Subskriptionspreis von 29,00 € gilt bis 07.07.2021. Danach kostet der Band 48,00 €.

Bellum et Artes
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