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Winckelmann, Johann Joachim (1717-1768)  
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The art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the first German to have been publicly acknowledged as a homosexual, developed an aesthetic deeply rooted in his homosexuality.

He was born in Stendal, the son of a cobbler. His family's modest financial situation limited his career choices. After two years of studying theology in Halle, where he also heard lectures on aesthetics by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, he briefly assumed a position as tutor in a private household.

One year later, he studied medicine in Jena; his knowledge of anatomy and his documented interest in and other sexual anomalies would stand him in good stead during the composition of his History of the Art of Antiquity.

Lack of other opportunities compelled him to accept a position as tutor to the Lamprecht family. His sole pupil, Peter Lamprecht, was his first love, and soon thereafter lived with him in Seehausen where Winckelmann was deputy headmaster of the Latin School (1743-1748).

It was during this time that he systematically read his way through the entire Greek and Latin corpus insofar as it was available.

In 1748, Winckelmann was appointed librarian to Count von Bünau in Nöthniz near Dresden where he enjoyed not only greater access to works of antiquity, but also the cultural milieu of the court of Dresden. Dresden was known for its outstanding collection of art and plaster casts (the Laocoön among them), as well as its culture of sexual freedom, not to say excess.

In Dresden, Winckelmann became acquainted with several diplomatic representatives of Rome and eventually decided to convert to Catholicism in 1754 in order to profit from Roman patronage. Although his conversion is common knowledge, few are aware that his emigration was nearly prevented because of his reluctance to part from the young Lamprecht.

In 1755, several months before his departure for Rome, his first book, Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, was published. Germany and Europe were suddenly presented with an inspired and distinctly aesthetic vision of Greek antiquity, dominated by the figure of the unabashed and beautiful male nude. In the fall of 1755, Winckelmann left Germany.

Winckelmann lived in Rome and Italy for thirteen years. He began modestly. Befriended by the German painter Anton Rafael Mengs, he went regularly to galleries and museums, and planned a monumental work of art history.

In 1757, he was appointed librarian to Cardinal Archinto, whose death two years later allowed him to transfer to the patronage of Cardinal Albani, a man who shared Winckelmann's aesthetic and erotic proclivities.

The association with Albani afforded Winckelmann unusual freedom and protection: He moved in the best social circles, acquired art and antiquities for both the cardinal and himself, and was entitled to the use of Albani's summer home for occasional trysts and more prolonged affairs.

The evidence of Winckelmann's homosexuality is substantial. His correspondence alone (over a thousand letters, many to confidantes) allows the scholar to document a life rich in friendship and love, supplemented by sexual encounters with Italian youths.

Winckelmann repeatedly acknowledges that he was never attracted to women. His sole affair with a woman occurred late in his life and under the most peculiar circumstances: The woman in question was Mengs's wife, the initiator Mengs himself.

Third-person accounts confirm the homosexual contours of Winckelmann's life. Perhaps the most interesting is that of Casanova, who claims to have caught Winckelmann in the act.

After Lamprecht, Winckelmann's second great love was a young nobleman from the Baltics whom he met in 1762 and for whom he served as cicerone, as he did for so many. Although his love was unrequited, Winckelmann published a monument to their friendship, entitled Abhandlung von der Fähigkeit der Empfindung des Schönen in der Kunst (1763), a text that evocatively links friendship with aesthetic education.

In 1764, Winckelmann's magnum opus, the History of the Art of Antiquity, was published. In this first modern work of art history, Winckelmann engages in detailed discussion of artworks and styles, setting them in a political and historical context, and organizing the whole according to a model of organic growth and decay.

Winckelmann himself was most proud of the aesthetic section of the History, a philosophical treatment of beauty that is distinctly gay. Ideal beauty is realized within a homosexual and desiring gaze trained on the bodies of eunuchs and castrati.

Winckelmann attempts to argue that eunuchs populated the gymnasia and artists' studios of ancient Athens, but it is clear that he is referring to his own considerable experience with castrati dating back to the opera in Dresden and continuing as a part of daily life in Rome.

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A portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann created by Anton von Maron 1767.
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