In 1756 the Seven Years’ War began, and was to spread throughout Europe and reach North America and India; in 1760 the Prussians marched into Dresden, and during the ensuing skirmishes the Kreuzkirche was badly damaged by cannon fire. The nave collapsed completely, leaving only the steeple standing. It took four years for rebuilding to begin, but the work was overshadowed after just one year by a terrible accident: the east wall of the steeple caved in, and the still extant walls had to be demolished before renovation could continue.
This is the moment captured by Venice-born painter Bernardo Bellotto, who had been working since 1747 for the art-loving Elector of Saxony Friedrich August II. Bellotto also created a series of views of Dresden, his patron’s residential seat.
The viewer is confronted by the tower, which spills its guts, as it were, above the cone of debris left by its collapsed rear section. This is no scene of ruins rendered sublime through mythological allusion, but rather a dispassionate glimpse of everyday life. And it is for precisely this reason that the painting – despite its brilliant clarity and sober eye for detail – serves as a warning. It becomes a metaphor for the ruin of the Saxon state following the disaster of the Seven Years’ War – in the course of which, as it happens, Bellotto’s own house was completely destroyed.