Founded in the thirteenth century, Dresden was the seat of the Saxon monarchs beginning in the fifteenth century and is currently the capital of the Free State of Saxony. Situated on the Elbe River in eastern Germany, Dresden played a pivotal role in the Renaissance and Reformation in Europe and has been called the "Florence of the North."

One of Dresden's outstanding cultural institutions is the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (Saxon State Library), founded in 1556 when Prince Elector Augustus (ruled 1553–1586) started systematically to acquire learned books and literary works. This year the Saxon State Library is celebrating its 440th anniversary. Its treasures, collected over four centuries, were behind the Iron Curtain between 1945 and 1990 and were largely unknown to Americans.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, under the rulers Augustus the Strong (ruled 1694–1733) and his son, Augustus II (ruled 1733–1763), Saxony reached the pinnacle of its cultural influence, manifested in the city's spectacular Baroque architecture. The city became a major European cultural center, whose monarchs fostered the arts, and made significant additions to its art, museum, and library collections. During this period the Court Library became a true state library for Saxony, adding many manuscripts, maps, and books from distinguished private collections. In 1727, the Library moved into two wings of the Zwinger Palace. By the end of the eighteenth century it had outgrown this location, and it then moved to the Japanese Palace. The Royal Library became a center of library science in the nineteenth century, and following the proclamation of the Weimar Republic in 1919, it officially became the Saxon State Library.

After World War II began in 1939, the most precious holdings of the Saxon State Library were moved to eighteen castles and offices in the vicinity of Dresden. Because of this, they largely survived the bombing raids of February and March 1945 by the British and American Air Forces that virtually destroyed the old city of Dresden and about 200,000 volumes of twentieth-century holdings.

The Library of Congress displays these treasures loaned from Dresden and shown in the United States for the first time in order to provide an insight into the cultural riches of Central Europe—from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century.