Winckelmann and Curiosity - Coins

Winckelmann, like most curious northerners, first encountered ancient art in the medium of coins: portable antiquities popular among collectors for centuries. Coins underpin Winckelmann’s reconstruction of the earliest stages in the evolution of Greek art in his 1764 Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (History of Ancient Art) [11]. The early 18th-century fashion for collecting coins was stimulated in part by scholarly publications. Charles Brent, Rector of Heythrop, and William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, donated their collections to Christ Church in 1718 and 1737 respectively, along with detailed handwritten catalogues of their holdings [12, 14]. In the 20th century, Christ Church and most other Oxford colleges deposited their coins in the Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean Museum [13, 15].


11.    Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums. Dresden 1764. Headpiece of chapter 4, section 3, showing Sicilian coins. Courtesy Nicholas Halmi.

12.    Catalogue of the coins of Charles Brent (Christ Church), Liber Aedis Christi ex dono Car. Brent AM AD 1718. Christ Church, MS 691 / Ashmolean, Arch.Coll.9. The manuscript has been fully digitised and is discussed in an extensive study of Christ Church Library Newsletter (Vol.10: 2017-18, pp. 10-19).

13.    Coins of Galba, Otto and Vitellius from the Collection of Charles Brent. Courtesy Heberden Coin Room, Ashmolean Museum

14.    Numismata Graeca. Christ Church Library Wake Archives. ND. Pp. 112–13. Christ Church / Ashmolean, Arch.Coll.Fol.6. The manuscript has been fully digitised and will become available shortly.

15.    Syracusan (Sicilian) coins from the Collection of William Wake: tetradrachm minted under Gelon I and Hieron I, 485–67 BCE, showing a female head amid four swimming dolphins (rev.) (HCR42866); litra minted under Gelon I and Hieron I, 485–67 BCE, showing a cuttlefish (rev.) (HCR 42874); bronze coin minted under Agathokles, 317–305 BCE, showing a wing-footed triskeles (rev.) (HCR43077); bronze coin minted under Pyrrhos, 278–76 BCE, showing a striding Athena Promachos (rev.) (HCR43224). Courtesy Heberden Coin Room, Ashmolean Museum.

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