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Augustus the Strong, Sun King of Saxony

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Dresden’s Baroque brilliance is thanks to Augustus II (1670–1733). The Saxony Elector was nicknamed “Augustus the Strong” either because of his physical strength – they say he showed off in court by snapping horseshoes – or his potency. Even if contemporary rumours that he fathered around 370 illegitimate children are hyperbolic, his twelve or so mistresses – from aristocratic ladies to French dancers via an Ottoman noblewoman – suggest a man of considerable appetites. The sobriquet also suits a ruler with an absolutist streak. Impressed by Versailles and Italian courts as an 18-year-old, Augustus styled himself as a Saxon Sun King and began to transform his capital into a mirror of his own magnificence. The upshot was such fantastic fripperies as the Zwinger and outrageous collections of porcelain and jewels that were hoarded with an almost obsessive-compulsive need. Indeed, his passion for porcelain, a “white gold” that had to be imported until his alchemist, Johann Friedrich Böttger, cracked the secret while incarcerated in the Königstein fortress, was directly inspired by the god-like rule of Oriental emperors. Yet Augustus was as ruthless as he was extravagant. Despite Saxony’s role as a wellspring of the Reformation, he converted to Catholicism to claim the Crown of Poland in 1697 and spent huge sums on bribes for its nobility and clergy.

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