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Winckelmann in Italy

A Slide-Lecture By Bradley Rose


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“Christian morality does not teach such love, but the pagans revered it, and the greatest deeds of the ancients were accomplished by it.”
—Johann Joachim Winckelmann

Winckelmann in Italy

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Born in Germany in 1717, Johann Joachim Winckelmann is considered the father of art history. His comparative studies of Greek and Roman art helped launched the neoclassical movement and inspired such literary figures as Geothe, Lessing, Heine, and others. In 1755 he moved to Rome, where he was eventually appointed papal antiquarian. During his years there he lived what was, for the eighteenth century, a relatively free life as a gay man. His death in Trieste in 1768 may have been the result of a homophobic assault.

Shortly after Bradley Rose and I became partners in 1980, he came home from the bookstore where he worked with a copy of Wolfgang Leppmann's biography of Winckelmann. Leppmann's desultory treatment of Winckelmann's homosexuality inspired Brad to undertake his own research into Winckelmann’s life and times. Over the course of a decade, Brad gathered sources from libraries and archives, translated many of Winckelmann’s letters from German and Italian, and eventually travelled to Rome and Naples to retrace his footsteps.


The Apollo Belvedere
Winckelmann’ study of this and other ancient Greek works led him to idealize classical depictions of young men as the exemplar of beauty.


Johann Joachim Wincklemann. Portrait by Angelika Kauffmann, 1764.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, portrait by Anton von Maron, 1768

For a while, Brad experimented with writing an historical novel based on his research, but eventually abandoned the project. He did, however, create an illustrated lecture about Winckelmann's life and his queer vision of art history, which he was able to present a few times, before succombing to AIDS in 1996.

Working together, Brad and I made a videotape of the presentation. We projected the slides onto a screen, and I filmed the presentation with a videocam while Brad narrated. The result is crude by today's standards—if Brad had lived a few years longer we would have been able to make a truly professional presentation using today's powerful desktop computers and software. So please be patient as you view . For me, this is a precious keepsake of Brad's life and voice and his keen insight into this important figure in lgbt history.

In the mid-1980s Bradley published an essay on Winckelmann as part of his A Radical Fairy’ Seedbed series (see link above). The essay was reissued in a collection of his Seedbeds put out by his friends. For more information, click on the link above.

Bradley Rose. Photo by Cass Brayton.