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JOHN WINCKELMAN was born at Stendal, in the ancient Marche of Brandenburgh, in 1718. His father was a shoemaker, and wholly incapable of cultivating the taste for literature which he developed at an early age. Left entirely to himself, Winckelman studied the best Latin and Greek authors; but the distress in which he was involved, compelled him to become a schoolmaster. It was then, he has asserted, "that he reflected upon passages in Homer, in shewing the alphabet to his scholars."-The Count de Bunau, the patron of literature, and who was himself an author, extricated him from his difficulties, and placed him near his person. The neighbourhood of Dresden furnished Winckelman with the means of contemplating the productions of art, and of making himself acquainted with learned men.
Having become professor of the belles lettres, at Sechausen, a new career opened to him. The Pope's Nuncio proposed to him to undertake a journey into Italy, assuring him, that he might easily obtain the post of librarian to the Vatican. But this flattering expectation, demanded of Winckelman two important sacrifices; he must necessarily quit the Count de Bunau, and change his religion. But the love of the arts prevailed. He became catholic in 1754; and excused himself with so
much candour towards his protector, that he felt an interest in his welfare, and remained his friend.
Before his departure for Rome, Winckelman published his Reflections on the Imitation of the Works of the Greeks, in Painting and Sculpture. This tract excited considerable sensation among the connoisseurs. Having, during his journey, attentively studied the most remarkable objects of the arts, Winckelman arrived at Rome; but the prelate, who had flattered him with so many promises, could not realize his hopes. Winckelman could there only obtain a lodging; his pride not permitting him to solicit more. He had then only his pension to subsist on, granted to him by the court of Dresden, and which amounted only to one hundred crowns. But this, on the breaking out of the war in Saxony, and which terminated in its subjection, he unfortunately lost. His presentation to Pope Benedict
XIV. and his connexion with the famous Cardinal Passioneï, had procured him only a scanty and precarious зubsistence. Thus circumstanced, he was compelled to renounce a portion of his independance, and attached himself to Cardinal Albani, in the quality of librarian. A little time afterwards, he was elected president of the antiquities, and found himself so comfortable in his situation, that although many of the German princes, desirous of fixing him in their neighbourhood, would have made him the most advantageous proposals, he could not be prevailed on to abandon his favourite employ.
The Description des Pierres Gravées du Cabinet de Stosch, extended the reputation of Winckelman, among the body of antiquaries. L'Histoire de l'Art chez les Anciens, was printed in 1764. This magnificent picture of the
birth, progress, and decline of statuary, among the principal nations of antiquity, met with prodigious success, and was regarded from its first appearance as a classical work. Such is the general opinion of its merits, that the important errors which have since been discovered, and even those which yet may be pointed out, do not injure its celebrity. Winckelman, it must be acknowledged, is at times too systematic; he is not sufficiently severe in the choice of pieces that he recommends to the notice of his readers; but he exalts the chef d'œuvres of antiquity, and exposes the immutable principles of the beau with uncommon energy and spirit. With what sagacity has he classed the works of sculpture, and indicated the epochs to which they may be attributed! To this knowledge of the arts, he joined the most profound erudition, and the talent so extremely rare, of conveying instruction without fatigue. Winckelman was not at all times exempt from prejudices. His friendship for his countryman, Mengs, the painter, and in whose favour he became a zealous partizan, was doubtless a meritorious sentiment; but it induced him often to exagge rate his praise, and attribute to that artist, whose reputation is by no means confirmed, qualities that he did not really possess.
By the criticisms of various adversaries, whom his extreme irritability had rendered more daring in their attacks, and compelled to forego a voyage into Greece, which he had a long time projected, Winckelman formed the resolution of returning to Germany. But though in his native country he met with the most flattering reception, his regret in quitting Rome embittered his enjoyments. This idea took such hold upon his mind, that the Roman sculptor, Cavaceppi, his travelling
companion, entreated him to return to Italy, which he consented. Having left Vienna, and arrived at Trieste, Winckelman formed, during his stay in that city, an acquaintance with an Italian adventurer, named Arcangeli, who gained his confidence, by expressing an insatiable love for the arts. This designing villain, in order to possess himself of some valuable medals which Winckelman had the imprudence to shew, stabbed him with at knife. He was apprehended and punished; although Winckelman, who at the approach of death demonstrated sentiments of the greatest piety, had declared he would pardon him. Winckelman, after leaving a few legacies to his friends,appointed the Cardinal Albani his residuary legatee; and died, after lingering a few hours, in excessive pain, on the 8th June, 1768, at the age of fifty
His History of the Arts, which he wrote in German, has been translated into several languages. Besides this production, and those we have already enumerated, he composed others, both in his native idiom, and in Italian. The most considerable are, his Letters on Herculaneum, his Allegory for Artists, Remarks upon Ancient Architecture, &c. Mons. d'Hancarville, his intimate friend, and who, as well as himself, has devoted his time and his talents to the study of antiquity in the capital of the Arts, has composed, to his memory, a Latin inscription, in the lapidary style of the ancients. Winckelman was much celebrated as an antiquary, and considered as the first connoisseur of his time. His friendship was much courted by travellers, to whom he paid the most courteous attention while at Rome.