The history of art

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an

Height: 315.000 mm
Width: 214.000 mm

PD 1862,2-8.225

The development of the history of art in the eighteenth century centred on the idea of classification and the attempt to trace the progress of art throughout human history.

Initially, collections of artefacts had been organised according to material, but classifications by subject soon became more common. This, for example, was the approach adopted by Bernard de Montfaucon (1665-1741) in L'Antiquité expliquée (1722), a visual encyclopedia of antiquity.

The idea of grouping objects by date and artistic style first developed in the study of paintings. In the second half of the eighteenth century, scholars began to use this approach to classify other objects, such as sculpture and vases. Most famously, The History of Ancient Art by Johann Winckelmann (1717-68) promoted an analysis of artistic development based on style that influenced scholars throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Winckelmann's work helped to create a formal approach to the history of art and established ancient Greek art as the pinnacle of human artistic progress.

Illustration: Johann Joachim Winckelmann, engraving by M. Blot

On display: Enlightenment: Art