Winckelmann, Johann Joachim
A very distinguished German archæologist, born in Stendal, Prussia, December 9th,
1717, the son of a shoemaker. With great difficulty young Winckelmann gained a preparatory
training in the schools of his native town, and at Berlin and Salzwedel, whence he went to the
Universities of Halle and Jena, at which he showed a remarkable proficiency in the Greek and
Latin languages, and a strong bent towards the study of archæology and ancient art.
After teaching for several years at Seehausen, he was made librarian at Nöthnitz,
near Dresden. The magnificent collections of the latter place filled him with a desire to
visit Rome, learning of which the Papal Nuncio, Archinto, promised to provide him with the
means on condition of his joining the Church—a condition which Winckelmann, after a
long period of hesitation, accepted in 1755. In the same year he received from the Pope a
small pension. He at once journeyed to Rome, where he formed the acquaintance of Raphael
Mengs, who greatly aided him in his studies of classic art.
Winckelmann now entered upon a period of prosperity, becoming librarian to Cardinal
Alessandro Albani, in whose palace and villa he was made at home; and in 1763, the Pope
appointed him Professor of Antiquities, and Hellenist to the great Vatican Library. His
improved circumstances allowed him to travel, so that he spent some time at Florence, Naples,
Pompeii, and Herculaneum, declining an appointment at Berlin, in order to remain in Italy. In
1768, having visited Vienna, he received from the Empress Maria Theresa the gift of some
exceedingly rare gold coins, whose value tempted the cupidity of an Italian thief, one
Arcangeli, and led him to assassinate Winckelmann while returning to Rome (June 8th). He was
buried in the cemetery adjoining the cathedral of Trieste, where he died.
Winckelmann was the founder of archæology as a science, and laid down the lines of
antiquarian investigation and research that modern scholars have so successfully followed out.
His influence was much more than a purely scholastic one, however. To his views of the
beantiful and to his enthusiasm for classical antiquity may be traced much of the inspiration
of Lessing and Heyne, and other writers of the Augustan Age of German literature. His greatest
work is the Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764)
, with its
supplementary work Anmerkungen über die Geschichte der Kunst
, both included in the Vienna edition of 1776 (Eng. trans. by Lodge, 2d ed. 4
vols. 1856- 72). Other works are the Gedanken über die Nachahmung der
griechischen Werke in Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (1755)
Description des Pierres Gravées du feu Baron de Stosch
; Monumenti Antichi Inediti
, 2 vols. (1767-68; 2d ed.
; Versuch einer Allegorie (1766, republished with additions
from manuscripts, 1866)
; and several reports on Herculaneum, etc. His letters were
edited and published by F. Forster, in 2 vols., Winckelmann's
Briefe (Berlin, 1824)
; and his complete works have been published under the
care of Fernow, H. Meyer, and Schultz, in 8 vols. (Dresden, 1808-1820)
On his literary influence the reader is referred to Goethe's Winckelmann und sein
, published in collaboration with H. Meyer and others
. His life was written by Karl Justi,
Winckelmann, sein Leben, seine Werke und seine Zeitgenossen
, 3 vols.