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.

Tramps, Tyrants, and Tenth Birthdays: encounters of the ‘classical reception’ kind

‘Classical reception’ is the study of the afterlife of classical literature and artefacts, in whatever medium. So it can include topics as diverse as theatre and film based on classical myths, political philosophy based on Plato and Aristotle, classicising sculpture of the Renaissance, or classicising architecture of the British empire. In Reading we currently teach reception via modules like ‘Ancient World on Film’ and ‘Transformations of Helen’. This weekend I encountered classical reception in other forms. I am on the advisory panel for the the AHRC-funded project ‘Classics and Class’, which is investigating how working-class readers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries engaged with the Greek and Roman classics, and on Friday I attended a workshop to discuss the latest findings. The principal investigators have trawled through published and unpublished archival sources in order to reconstruct the reading experience of hundreds of ordinary people who were not professional classicists, or even particularly educated, but who made the classics their own out of sheer interest and dedication. Of particular note was Dirty Dick of Aberdaron, a Welsh vagrant who knew several languages including Ancient Greek and Latin, and who hand-wrote numerous dictionaries – which were all stolen from him in the various hostels where he had to stay. The project has an extensive website, http://www.classicsandclass.info/, where you can read his story as well as many others.

One member of the workshop, David Movrin from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, brought along a new publication, Classics and Communism: Greek and Latin behind the Iron Curtain (2013) (http://www.classics.si/classics-and-communism/). This is a fascinating volume which outlines the careers of several mid-twentieth century classicists in former Soviet countries as they negotiated the difficulties of pursuing ‘humanist’ studies under authoritarian rule. The book has 150 pages of reproductions from Soviet archives including photographs, report cards, trial records, and hand-written poems from the labour camp where a classics professor was imprisoned for ‘contra-revolutionary propaganda’. A copy of Oedipus Tyrannus was sent to him, but it was interpreted as a slur on Stalin. These classicists were a very different set of people from the working-class readers, but they too pursued classics under impossibly hostile conditions.

On Monday I attended a less disturbing meeting, of the executive committee of the Classical Reception Studies Network. This Network brings together students and scholars of any discipline who have an interest in classical reception. It is ten years old this year, which is a source of great pride as well as a stimulus to reflection. In the relatively short space of ten years the focus on reception has transformed the field of classics, fostering connections both with other disciplines and with colleagues in other countries. Recent publications in reception include topics like Greek tragedy in prisons, Pompeii in the public imagination, Electra in film, Julius Caesar in American politics, and the Olympics in the modern world (http://www.open.ac.uk/arts/research/crsn/some-publications). Very few of these subjects would have been considered part of ‘classics’ ten years ago, but they all enrich our understanding both of the ancient world and of the modern. It was an inspiring weekend.

Barbara Goff

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.