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Winckelmann’s Epistolary Art

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March 28, 2023

Speaker & Affiliation

Katherine Harloe, University of London


4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
010 East Pyne


Over the two and half centuries since he met his violent end in Trieste, the correspondence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the traditional ‘founder’ of classical archaeology, has grown as important to the formation of his legend as his published writings on art. His letters, and the life story to which they promise access, were crucial to his canonisation as a figure of emulation for students of classics in Germany; they also played a central role in the quest for ‘Uranian’ ancestors among activists in the burgeoning European homosexual emancipation movement of the 1890s. In this talk I will respectfully interrogate these traditions, seeking to do justice to their importance while also criticising the ways in which they have establish a sharp (and anachronistic) divide between ‘private’ and ‘public’ categories of Winckelmann’s literary production. Turning to the educational contexts of Winckelmann’s childhood and youth and the rich evidence his manuscripts provide of his reading in Latin and vernacular authors, I shall argue that Winckelmann practised an epistolary art grounded in classical and early modern epistolary convention. Viewed in this perspective, his letters construct a set of queerly desiring personae more varied and interesting than traditional readings have revealed.