Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library (Christ Church, Oxford)

On the glorious sunny evening of 29th June 2018, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, welcomed Reading staff, interested scholars and other supporters to a champagne launch of Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library, which explores the interaction and influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1758), the pioneer historian, art historian and archaeologist, on the occasion of the double anniversaries of his birth and death. (https://www.winckelmann-gesellschaft.com/en/winckelmann_anniversaries_20172018).


The event also served as a finale to a very successful one-day workshop on Ideals and Nations: New perspectives on the European reception of Winckelmann’s aesthetics, organised by Dr Fiona Gatty and Lucy Russell, under the auspices of the Department of Modern Languages, Oxford University. (This was the last of our triplet of workshops on the theme Under the Greek Sky: Taste and the Reception of Classical art from Winckelmann to the present, of which Spreading good taste: Winckelmann and the objects of disseminationin Reading on 15 September 2017—was the second). On this auspicious occasion Professor Alex Potts from University of Michigan, formerly Professor of the History of Art & Architecture at University, served as one of the workshops’ keynote speakers and proposed a toast to Winckelmann.

This exhibition is a collaboration between UoR Classics’ Ure Museum and Christ Church, co-curated by Reading’s Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof Amy Smith (Curator of the Ure Museum) and Christ Church’s Cristina Neagu (Keeper of Collections). The exhibition of vases, coins, gems (and casts thereof) and even a piece of painted Pompeian plaster kindly lent by the Reading Museum Service, is displayed in Christ Church’s recently restored upper library, which IS in fact the very embodiment of the collecting curiosity that Winckelmann influenced with his enthusiasm for the study of artefacts alongside texts. The library, completed in 1772, boasts large Venetian windows at either end, fittings that date mostly from the 1750s and plasterwork replicating some of the musical instruments once contained in the library.  

The exhibition is accompanied by a 134-page book, edited by Drs Harloe & Neagu & Prof Smith, with essays and a handlist of the objects on display, available from either Christ Church or the University of Reading for £10. We are grateful to the Friends of the University of Reading for funds in support of this publication.

The Ure Museum staff have planned a series of outreach activities in connection with the exhibition, starting with an activity for children and their carers: The Grand Tour: How Classical art went viral in England at Christ Church on Mondays—30th July, 6th and 13th August, from 11am to 1230 pm, in Christ Church Library (OX1 4EJ). Please contact ure.education@reading.ac.uk if you are interested in participating. Details of this and other related activities can be found on the ‘Winckelmania’ research blog—https://research.reading.ac.uk/winckelmania/.

Longing for what we have lost

Portrait of J.J. Winckelmann by A. von Maron (1768)

Today marks the 250th anniversary of the untimely death of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a pioneering scholar of antiquity and arbiter of taste in 18th-century Europe. As part of the Winckelmann anniversaries 2017-2018 (we celebrated the 300th anniversary of Winckelmann’s birth 9 December 2017) we are pleased to launch a special online exhibition curated by Connell Greene, currently a third year student in our BA in Classical Studies: Longing for what we have lost: An influential explorer’s pursuit of classical antiquity. This exhibition considers how, since his death, Winckelmann’s life and scholarship have continued to fascinate artists, writers and thinkers, and thus elevate his significance within European cultural history in general and LGBTQ history in particular. Connell worked on this exhibit as part of his UROP, under the supervision of Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof. Amy C. Smith.

On our Winckelmann research project web pages you can also explore upcoming events and our other exhibitions, From Italy to Britain. Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste and Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century gentleman’s library. These latter exhibitions, which explore Winckelmann’s influence on the reception of the taste for classics in Europe, are the fruit of collaborations between the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and partners at UoR and beyond. The latter exhibit, hosted by Christ Church Library, Oxford, and curated by our Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof. Amy Smith, together with Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church), will be launched 29 June 2018 and displayed until 26 October 2018. It is launched simultaneously with a workshop, organised by the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, in collaboration with Christ Church, Ideals and Nations: New perspectives on the European reception of Winckelmann’s aesthetics. This is the third and last of a trilogy of workshops we have organised on the theme, Under the Greek Sky: Taste and the Reception of Classical art from Winckelmann to the present, with colleagues at London (KCL and Warburg) as well as Reading and Oxford.

Our collaboration with Christ Church is particularly appropriate, since it recalls the University of Reading’s origins as an extension college—University Extension College, Reading—founded by Christ Church in 1892.

Forthcoming Talk by Dr Katherine Harloe – Winckelmann: Art and Death in Enlightenment Europe’

Winckelmann and the invention book coverOn Wednesday 5 February 2014, Dr Katherine Harloe will give a public talk with Ian Jenkins of the British Museum on the topic ‘Winckelmann: Art and Death in Enlightenment Europe’.  Below she discusses some aspects of Winckelmann’s life and work, his death, and what led her to make him the subject of her recent monograph.

Around ten in the morning on 8 June 1768, a commotion disturbed the staff and guests at Trieste’s Osteria Grande.  The hotel steward, Andreas Harthaber, was first to react. He was cleaning the main dining room when he heard a loud thump from room 10 above.  Running upstairs, he threw open the door to see the guest of that room stretched out on the floor, a noose around his neck.  The inhabitant of the neighbouring room knelt above him, one hand on his chest, the other brandishing a bloodied knife.  On seeing Andreas the assailant jumped up, pushed his way out of the door and fled from hotel and city. Doctors were called but it was too late to save the victim, who died from his injuries some hours later.

Such was the unexpected and brutal end of a man who was known to the Osteria staff simply as ‘Signor Giovanni’, but was soon revealed to be a person of some consequence.  Among his effects were gold and silver medals bearing likenesses of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, and her son, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.  A passport, issued in Vienna some two weeks previously, identified its bearer as ‘Johannes Winckelmann, Prefect of Antiquities in Rome, on his way back to the Holy City’.

1024px-Johann_Joachim_Winckelmann_(Raphael_Mengs_after_1755) Wikimedia commonsThe notoriety of this murder is so great that the Grand Hotel Duchi d’Aosta, which now stands on the site once occupied by the Osteria Grande, still carries details of it on its homepage . The murderer, Francesco Arcangeli, had unwittingly killed one of the leading lights of Enlightened antiquarianism and connoisseurship.  Contemporary opinion of Winckelmann is best summed up in an early nineteenth-century French engraving, a copy of which is displayed in the case devoted to Winckelmann in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery.  The main image, which is based on a portrait Winckelmann’s great friend, the neoclassical painter Anton Raphael Mengs, shows him dressed humbly, reading an edition of Homer.  Below, between copies of two of his most famous works (the Description of the Apollo Belvedere and the History of the Art of the Ancients), a legend declares ‘In the midst of Rome, Winckelmann lit the flame of the rational study of the works of the Ancients’.

My own fascination with Winckelmann began some eight years ago, when I was researching a project on changing conceptions of classical scholarship from the seventeenth century to today.  My experiences as an undergraduate classicist at Oxford, and then as a student of early modern history at Cambridge, had alerted me a strange disjunction between the notion of classics held by an early modern thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and those of my teachers and contemporaries.  In the early modern university, study of the Greek and Roman classics was an elementary discipline, taught to inculcate principles of good style and virtuous conduct through the study of uplifting examples.  This seemed a far cry from classics as I understood it, as a non-utilitarian, historical discipline aimed at recovering and reconstructing of the ancient world in all its aspect.

My attempts to account for this change led me back time and time again to Winckelmann’s name.  His researches in 1750s and 1760s Rome were key to transforming the academic study of classics, popularising the study of ancient objects and turning it from a mainly literary discipine into the holistic study and reconstruction of ancient cultures.  Winckelmann was the first to bring together interpretation of thousands of different artefacts from ancient Egypt, Etruria, Greece and Rome into an overarching story of the rise and decline of ancient cultures, and to connect differences in their characteristics and quality (‘style’) to the political and social conditions of their time.  Even if many of his judgements now seem to have been motivated by prejudice, the ambition of his historical ‘system’ – as well as some of its details, such as his broad distinctions between the archaic, classical and Hellenistic periods – have exerted a great influence on the concepts and categories of classical scholarship to this day.

Yet, in the eighteenth century as today, commentators were just as fascinated by other aspects of Winckelmann’s life and character: his biography, with its startling ascent from rags to riches, the overt homoeroticism of some of his most famous writings, and of course his bloody end.  Winckelmann inspired the generation of Goethe and Schiller; French revolutionaries hailed him as a champion of liberty; and in the early twentieth century he inspired novellas by German Nobel laureates Thomas Mann (‘Der Tod in Venedig’) and Gerhart Hauptmann (‘Winckelmann – das Verhängnis). My research to date has focused on Winckelmann’s impact on scholarship, but this Enlightenment life and personality is fascinating from any number of angles.

All are welcome to attend Dr Harloe’s talk in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery on Wednesday 5 February at  1:15pm.

New Monographs by Reading Classicists

Reading’s Department of Classics is delighted to welcome the two most recent additions to our Faculty bookshelf by Prof. Annalisa Marzano and Dr Katherine Harloe:

Harvesting the SeaProf. Annalisa Marzano published her monograph ‘Harvesting the Sea. The Exploitation of Marine Resources in the Roman Mediterranean‘. Harvesting the Sea provides the first systematic treatment of the exploitation of various marine resources, such as large-scale fishing, fish salting, salt and purple-dye production, and oyster and fish-farming, in the Roman world and its role within the ancient economy.

Bringing together literary, epigraphic, and legal sources, with a wealth of archaeological data collected in recent years, Marzano shows that these marine resources were an important feature of the Roman economy and, in scope and market-oriented production, paralleled phenomena taking place in the Roman agricultural economy on land. The book also examines the importance of technological innovations, the organization of labour, and the use of the existing legal framework in defence of economic interests against competitors for the same natural resource.

WinckelmannDr Katherine Harloe published her monograph ‘Winckelmann and the Invention of Antiquity. History and Aesthetics in the Age of Altertumswissenschaft‘. This volume provides a new perspective on the emergence of the modern study of antiquity, Altertumswissenschaft, in eighteenth-century Germany through an exploration of debates that arose over the work of the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann between his death in 1768 and the end of the century.

Winckelmann’s eloquent articulation of the cultural and aesthetic value of studying the ancient Greeks, his adumbration of a new method for studying ancient artworks, and his provision of a model of cultural-historical development in terms of a succession of period styles, influenced both the public and intra-disciplinary self-image of classics long into the twentieth century. Yet this area of Winckelmann’s Nachleben has received relatively little attention compared with the proliferation of studies concerning his importance for late eighteenth-century German art and literature, for historians of sexuality, and his traditional status as a ‘founder figure’ within the academic disciplines of classical archaeology and the history of art. Harloe restores the figure of Winckelmann to classicists’ understanding of the history of their own discipline and uses debates between important figures, such as Christian Gottlob Heyne, Friedrich August Wolf, and Johann Gottfried Herder, to cast fresh light upon the emergence of the modern paradigm of classics as Altertumswissenschaft: the multi-disciplinary, comprehensive, and historicizing study of the ancient world.