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Why Johann Winckelmann is a name you should know, but don't


Illustration of a Herculanean dancer. From: Ottavio Baiardi. The antiquities of Herculaneum. London: S. Leacroft, 1773.

When we think of art inspiration, we might cite Da Vinci, Van Gogh or countless other households names from the 19th and 20th century. But have you ever wondered where 18th and 19th-century British artists, architects and craftsmen found their inspiration? Enter Johann Joachim Winckelmann.

An 18th-century art historian, Winckelmann first learned about the ancient world through immersion in literature. As a teacher then a librarian in his native Germany, Winckelmann encountered the classics primarily through literary texts, as well as the souvenirs-coins, gems and figurines-that Grand Tourists and other travellers had brought north from their visits to Italy.

On Wednesday 6 December, Dr Katherine Harloe - Associate Professor in Classics and a co-curator of an ongoing exhibition on Johann Winckelmann - will explore his profound influence on generations of British artisans and the spread and reception of neoclassical art.

The talk, From Italy to Britain, is scheduled for 1.15 pm in The Conference Room at the Special Collections Service.

Winckelmann rose to prominence as Prefect of Antiquities in the Vatican. He studied the remains of Greek, Graeco-Roman and Roman art on a larger scale.

Through personal contacts, letters and other writings, Winckelmann influenced his and subsequent generations of scholars, aesthetes, collectors, craftsmen and artists both within and beyond Italy.

Dr Katherine Harloe published a monograph on Winckelmann in 2013, based on careful study of his correspondence and archival material, as well as his published works. Her current projects include a study of the love letters that Winckelmann wrote and the dominant role that they played in the reception of his work.

The talk is complementary to an exhibition on Winckelmann’s work, curated by Professor Amy Smith in the Staircase Hall at the Special Collections Service, closing on 15 December.

The talk will be followed by an opportunity to view the exhibition and further explore the spread of neoclassical taste in Europe.

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