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Winckelmann and his discoveries on exhibition at the Capitol

Winckelman and his discoveries on exhibition at the Capitol

An exhibition curated by the Capitoline Museums, that you can visit at these days, celebrate the double anniversary of the birth and death of the father of modern archeology: Johann Joachim Winckelmann. The exhibition open until next April, accompanies those who love art along the path of love and knowledge that led the German scholar to rewrite some founding pages of the history of ancient art.

Winckelmann lived in an age of transition, when the Lumi of the eighteenth century began to inspire new approaches to the artistic heritage of Rome, the same that led Clement XII to establish the first public museum in Europe: the Capitoline Museum where the masterpieces of Ancient Rome were exhibited, the same ones that the popes had found or bought in order to prevent the city's artistic heritage from being lost.
To enter it was necessary to register and when Winckelmann went there for the first time in 1755, entered by signing himself in the entrance register as "Saxon nation painter", although he was also the personal secretary of Cardinal Albani who had sold to the Pope his collection to free himself from gambling debts. The masterpieces of Roman art, that the Cardinal had kept closed in the dark halls of his Palace of Four Fountains, but the Pope wanted to expose them to let everyone know the greatness of Rome and for this he also built a building, the New Palace in the Capitolium Place .

Since then the Capitoline collection has been enriched but it had also lost some of its masterpieces transferred to other locations by the popes and by Napoleon in the short period of the French occupation.
Among the significant works of the first exhibition transferred elsewhere is the giant statue of Egyptian Antinous, now in the Vatican Museums, of which Winckelmann first gave a correct reading. The statue found in the area of Villa Adriana in 1740 was initially interpreted as a Greek statue of Egyptian style erected to honor an athlete who won two Olympic Games and was Winckelmann, in a decisive contrast with his contemporary scholars, who openly supported the dating age of Hadrian and not only for the resemblance to to the young man loved by the emperor. In the exhibition path it will be possible to admire a plaster cast of the statue made under concession of the Vatican Museums.

In the exhibition's presentation book, it is recalled that in the museum early years the entrance was free and access to some rooms was possible only with the payment of a tip to the caretakers and how many were the artists who used this subterfuge to be able to admire and draw the great works of the past.
Questions can be asked about the many initiatives - aperitifs and coffee shops - that the current directors of Italian museums are taking to promote the wonders that have been entrusted to them; they do not have to remember the illustrious example and the vision of Benedict XIV who en 1754 promoted the Academy of Nude, under the aegis of the Academy of San Luca, and of the director, until 1799 Ennio Quirino Visconti, that allowed the artists to portray live the innumerable works of art kept in the Roman museum.

The studies and drawings of artists such as Campiglia, who was its first director, Mengs, Humbert and Canova spread throughout Europe becoming formidable vehicles to promote the museum and at the same time new works to be admired for the ways in which they suggested the enjoyment of original work. Individual talents went in search of new perspectives and experimented with new lights capable of providing different interpretative keys.To confirm this, the words written by John Wolfang Goethe "The works on exhibition in the Capitoline Museum ... to ascertain their beauty is recommended to see them by torchlight. ... if you want to observe them well and evaluate how they deserve ".
The purpose of this different kind of knowledge is the same Winckelmann to explain referring to "the great collection of drawings (though earlier) of Mr. Bartolommeo Cavaceppi" in his History of Art: "... in the art of the ancients ... they will obtain much clearer ideas on the way that the ancients kept to reach perfection".

by M.L. ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (Ed 1.0 - 12/02/2018)


  • Aa.Vv.: Il Tesoro di Antichità. Winckelmann ed il Museo Capitolino nella Roma del Settecento. Gangemi Editore 2017

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