Johann Joachim Winckelmann

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Winckelmann, Johann Joachim


Born Dec. 9, 1717, in Stendal, Magdeburg; died June 8, 1768, in Trieste, German historian of ancient art.

A theologian by education, Winckelmann studied in Berlin (1735-36) and Halle (1738-40). During 1748-54 he served as librarian to Count Bünau (near Dresden), and in this period he became acquainted with the works of English and French Enlightenment figures, including A. C. Shaftesbury, C. L. Montesquieu, and Voltaire. From 1755, Winckelmann worked in Rome. In 1763 he became the Vatican’s chief antiquarian and “president of antiquities.” He witnessed the excavations at Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Paestum. Arguing from the viewpoint of Enlightenment philosophy against the mannered, aristocratic art of the 18th century, Winckelmann turned to ancient Greece in his search for models for heroic and patriotic art. His principal work, A History of Ancient Art (Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, 1763; Russian translation, 1888, 1890), was the first example of a scholarly art history, where the main consideration was given to art as a whole in its flowering and decline rather than to individual masters. Not confining himself to describing the subject matter or evaluating the faithfulness of the rendition of nature, Winckelmann attempted to characterize the metaphoric language and artistic traits of a given work of art. Thus, he was among the first to develop a method of analysis of works of art. Although Winckelmann only knew works of the Hellenistic period or Roman copies, he managed to arrive at a correct insight into the social background of ancient Greek art and the sensuous perception of topical reality on which it was based. He considered climate, state structure, and, most important, political freedom to be the causes of its flowering. Winckelmann’s ideal was Greek sculpture of the classical age, idealistic and elevated in his opinion, ennobling reality, and alien to everything that was commonplace and personal. Idealizing antiquity, Winckelmann considered ancient Greek art the model for all times and peoples. However, when he called on artists to return to the study of nature, Winckelmann implied an imitation of the ancient models. The interpretation of ancient art advanced by him became well-known during the 1760’s, and it served as the aesthetic basis for the emergence of classicism in Germany (for example, A. R. Mengs and A. Tischbein) as well as in other European countries (J. L. David, B. Thorvaldsen, and A. Canova). Winckelmann’s interpretation also greatly influenced the creative work of the masters of the first half of the 19th century.


Werke, vols. 1-11 [Dresden-Berlin] 1808-25.
Briefe, vols. 1-4. Berlin, 1952-57.
In Russian translation:
Istoriia iskusstva drevnosti. [Leningrad] 1933.
Izbrannye proizvedeniia l pis’ma. [Moscow-Leningrad] 1935.


Grib, V. R. “Uchenie Vinkel’mana o krasote.” Literaturnyi kritik, 1934, no. 12.

Lifshits, M. “I. I. Vinkel’man.…” In M. Lifshits, Voprosy iskusstva ifilosofii. Moscow, 1935. Pages 5-79.

Justi, K. Winckelmann: Sein Leben, seine Werke und seine Zeitgenossen, vols. 1-3, 5th ed. Cologne, 1956.

Koch, H. Johann Joachim Winckelmann: Spache und Kunstwerke. Berlin, 1957.

Ruppert, H. Winckelmann-Bibliographie. Berlin, 1968.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Here you will find a survey of the major directions in art historical research since the days that Johann Joachim Winckelmann invented our profession, illustrated by appropriate texts chosen from over the whole period of the mid-18th to the late 20th century.
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), the aesthetician at the centre of Morrison's study, was the son of a poor cobbler who became, via some private tutoring, the librarian of Cardinal Archinto and then Cardinal Albani in Rome.
eighteenth-century German art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann,
Alsthesis, structured as fourteen chronological "scenes," beginning in Dresden in 1764 with Johann Joachim Winckelmann's description of the Belvedere Torso and ending in 1941 with James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, might be seen as the materialist history of an idea.
Brilliant delineates several Laocoons: the "normative" object discovered in 1506, restored in the sixteenth century and interpreted by Renaissance artists and writers; the subject of Johann Joachim Winckelmann's critical discourse, which was followed by those of Lessing and Goethe; the Laocoon of Margarete Bieber and Bernard Andreae, which took shape around Filippo Magi's restoration (1960) and the discovery of the Homeric sculpture groups at the "villa of Tiberius" at Sperlonga.
Johann Joachim Winckelmann is responsible for this type of assessment, an assessment that one finds even today in popular ideas of Egyptian art.
`WHAT', ASKS Alex Potts at the beginning of this book, `does the name Johann Joachim Winckelmann usually conjure up?' Most of us will recall his oft-quoted and somewhat reassuring dictum that we should find in the art of the Greeks `a noble simplicity and a calm grandeur'.