Johann Joachim Winckelmann bigraphy, stories - German archaeologist

Johann Joachim Winckelmann : biography

December 9, 1717 - June 8, 1768

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (December 9, 1717 – June 8, 1768) was a German art historian and archaeologist.The biography in English is a popular account, Wolfgang Leppmann, Winckelmann (London) 1971; David Irwin offers a brief account to introduce his volume of selected writings, Winckelmann: Writings on Art (London: Phaidon) 1972. He was a pioneering Hellenist who first articulated the difference between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art. "The prophet and founding hero of modern archaeology",Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers, p. 584, Random House (New York, 1983) Winckelmann was one of the founders of scientific archaeology and first applied the categories of style on a large, systematic basis to the history of art. Many consider him the father of the discipline of art history. His would be the decisive influence on the rise of the neoclassical movement during the late 18th century. His writings influenced not only a new science of archaeology and art history but Western painting, sculpture, literature and even philosophy. Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art (1764) was one of the first books written in German to become a classic of European literature. His subsequent influence on Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Hölderlin, Heine, Nietzsche, George, and Spengler has been provocatively called "the Tyranny of Greece over Germany."Boorstin, p.586-587; Butler, Eliza M., The Tyranny of Greece over Germany (Cambridge Univ. Press, London, 1935)

Today, Humboldt University of Berlin's Winckelmann Institute is dedicated to the study of classical archaeology.

Winckelmann was notably gay, and open homoeroticism informed his writings on aesthetics. This was recognized and accepted by his contemporaries, such as Goethe.


The most accessible edition of selected works, in condensed forms, is David Irwin, Winckelmann: Selected Writings on Art (London: Phaidon) 1972; the critical edition is Walther Rehm and Hellmut Sichtermann, eds., Kleine Schriften, Vorreden, Entwürfen (Berlin), 1968.

  1. Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst ("Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture"), followed by a feigned attack on the work, and a defence of its principles, nominally by an impartial critic. (First edition of only 50 copies 1755, 2nd ed. 1756)
  2. Description des pierres gravées du feu Baron de Stosch (1760).
  3. Anmerkungen über die Baukunst der Alten ("Remarks on the Architecture of the Ancients"), including an account of the temples at Paestum (1762)
  4. Sendschreiben von den Herculanischen Entdeckungen ("Letter About the Discoveries at Herculaneum") (1762).
  5. ("Essay on the Beautiful in Art") (1763), an epistolary essay addressed to Friedrich Rudolph von Berg.
  6. "Nachrichten von den neuesten Herculanischen Entdeckungen" ("Report About the Latest Herculanean Discoveries") (1764).
  7. Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums ("History of Ancient Art") (1764).
  8. Versuch einer Allegorie ("Attempt at an Allegory") (1766), which, although containing the results of much thought and reading, is not conceived in a thoroughly critical spirit.
  9. Monumenti antichi inediti (1767–1768), prefaced by a Trattato preliminare, presenting a general sketch of the history of art. The plates in this work are representations of objects which had either been falsely explained or not explained at all.
  10. Briefe an Bianconi ("Letters to Bianconi"), which were published eleven years after his death, in the Antologia Romana.


Early life

Winckelmann was born in poverty in Stendal in the Margraviate of Brandenburg. His father, Martin Winckelmann, worked as a cobbler, while his mother, Anna Maria Meyer, was the daughter of a weaver. Winckelmann's early years were full of hardship, but his academic interests pushed him forward. Later in Rome, when he had become a famous scholar, he wrote: "One gets spoiled here; but God owed me this; in my youth I suffered too much."

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