Winckelmann and Curiosity - Gems

Gems, like coins, constituted portable historical artefacts that were eagerly collected by connoisseurs [16]. Winckelmann’s work on the catalogue of the famous gem collection of Philipp von Stosch, a Prussian connoisseur and diplomat resident in Italy [17], helped form his ideas on the stylistic changes in ancient art, which were developed in greater depth in his Geschichte [19]. One of the Stosch gems is proudly displayed on the title page of the French translation of this work, which in turn influenced French tastes. Winckelmann’s and other writers’ works were also illustrated with gems from other famous collections: see for example the gem from the Farnese Collection that adorned the title page of volume II of Geschichte [19]. Those who could not afford to purchase original gems avidly collected casts, sets of which (‘dactyliothecae’) were housed in ornate boxes, imitating the books that otherwise filled the curious gentleman’s library [19–20]. Even before he went to Rome, Winckelmann was acquainted with Neoclassical artists and craftsmen involved in making gem casts such as Philipp Daniel Lippert, maker of one of the most famous of such ‘dactyliothecae’. Winckelmann’s first published essay, the Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerey und Bildhauerkunst (Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek works in painting and sculpture), 1755 [18], was both inspired by and aimed to inspire such artists.


16.    Intaglio necklace comprised of ancient and later gems set in gold, circa 1820 CE. Private collection.

17.    Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Description des pierres graveés du feu Baron von Stosch, 2nd edition, Florence 1760. Christ Church Library, W.q.3.18.

18.    Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerey und Bildhauerkunst, 2nd edition, Dresden and Leipzig 1756. Courtesy Nicholas Halmi.

18a.   Photograph of Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Anton von Maron 1767. Original in Schloss Weimar, G 70.

19.    Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, vol. 2. Dresden 1764. Title page showing a gem from the Farnese Collection. Courtesy Nicholas Halmi.

20.    A Catalogue of one hundred impressions from gems, engraved by Nathaniel Marchant. London 1792. Together with a box of casts of gems. Christ Church Library, Z.C.3.14; Arch Inf. K cupboard.

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