Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768)

German art historian, archaeologist, and aesthetics philosopher, Johann Joachim Winckelmann was one of the leading proponents of neoclassicism. He has been recognized as a founder of modern methodologies in the fields of art history and archaeology.

Portrait of Winckelmann, Raphael Mengs, after 1755

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About his life

Johann Joachim Winkelmann was born in 1717 in Stendal in Prussia. After early training in Stendhal and Berlin, he received his classical and theological education at the University of Halle. In 1741 he entered the University of Jena, where he studied mathematics and medicine. In 1748 he began working as a secretary of von Bünau’s library in Nöthnitz, near Dresden. In November 1755, Winkelmann moved to Rome, where he worked as a librarian for various church authorities. In 1758 he took part in the development of guidelines for excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In Trieste, he was stabbed to death for some jewelry he had in his hotel room.

Portrait of Winckelmann - etching (1783-1784) by Girolamo Carattoni (1757 or 1760-1809) -Exhibition 'Winckelmann and the collections of Archaeological Musem of Naples' up to September 25, 2017 - Naples, Archaeological Museum
Portrait of Winckelmann – etching (1783-1784) by Girolamo Carattoni (1757 or 1760-1809) – Naples, Archaeological Museum

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What were his major works?

Winckelmann’s ingenious works aroused a huge public interest in classical art and significantly influenced the formation of the neoclassical movement in art. Winckelmann’s two most influential works are:

  • Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture. It is a philosophical definition of Greek aesthetics. The work contains numerous discussions about the connection between art, literature, and emotions, and Winckelmann often quotes the dictum about the “noble simplicity and quiet greatness” of Greek sculpture. He also describes the statue of Laocoon, which had a significant influence on the German playwright and critic of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, Winckelmann

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  • History of Ancient Art, though now long antiquated, is significant for having given to the study of the history of art its foundations, and a scientific methodology.
The History of Ancient Art, Winckelmann

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