Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an engraving by M. Blot after a portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs

Published around 1815

The founding father of classical archaeology

Johann Winckelmann (1717-68) was born the son of a shoemaker, but became the principal antiquary of his time. Today many people regard him as the founding father of modern Classical archaeology. This engraving celebrates him as the greatest connoisseur of the Enlightenment and as a leading figure in the eighteenth-century creation of German literature.

The text beneath the portrait translates as: 'In the midst of Rome, Wincklemann lit the flame of the rational study of the works of Antiquity'. Winckelmann is shown holding a copy of Homer's Iliad, which was thought at that time to be the greatest work of ancient literature. In the right-hand corner is an open copy of Wincklemann's The History of Ancient Art (Dresden, 1764). This became one of the most influential European works on ancient art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In particular, it was crucial in raising the status of ancient Greek art, which Winckelmann considered the highest form of artistic achievement. On the left-hand side are the titles of two famous sculptures in the Vatican that Winckelmann described in the book as the greatest achievements in the history of art - the Belvedere Torso and the Apollo Belvedere.

The original oil portrait by the German painter and critic Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79) is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Height: 315.000 mm
Width: 214.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1862,2-8.225



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