Winckelmann (1)

Having now seen the second programme of Civilisations, we have been discussing over breakfast how far Mary Beard’s view is true that it was Winckelmann who was responsible for the idealisation of Greek sculpture, the glorification of the Apollo Belvedere, its enshrinement in Robert Adam’s display at Syon House, and Kenneth Clark’s snooty passing reference to it in one of his programmes as representing ‘a higher state of civilisation’. I know that Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums is regarded as key to any understanding and interpetation of the ideology of neoclassicism. But it was not published till 1764 and translated into French in 1768 (Beard refers to the French translation in Syon Library). The conversion of Syon and creation of its brilliant neoclassical interiors took place during the 1760s, so Winckelmann and Robert Adam were both similarly influenced by the archaeological interests and dsicoveries in Rome during the 1750s. What I’m not sure was adequately conveyed was the extent to which Winckelmann was responsible for a properly historical understanding of classical sculpture and not just a homoerotic idealisation of it.


3 thoughts on “Winckelmann (1)

  1. I thought Mary Beard made a good case but you are right, the dates make it unlikely that Winkelmann was decisively influential. Nevertheless the series is coming along well. I’m impatient for the third tranch.

  2. ruth guilding says:

    Dear Charles, re. the Apollo Belvedere and Syon, Robert and James Adam were under pressure from their patrons over the statues that they provided for the Marble Hall and their choices in Rome were made quite pragmatically, prioritising novelty, fashion and opulence (it’s all in my Yale book, Owing the Past, Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture (2014), pp.105-8 etc). pip pip ! R

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