On a spring day, in the village of Tripiti on the island of Milos, a young man discovered something beautiful. The year was 1820 when the young, Yorgos Kentrotas, discovered a statue buried within ancient ruins. The statue was broken into several sections and fragments but the torso and legs were intact in two pieces. The statue is believed to be that of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty and was later to be termed, the Aphrodite of Milos, or the Roman version, Venus de Milo. The German scholar of ancient Greek and Roman art, Johann Winkelmann established many of the methods used to analyze the Venus de Milo. In his book “The History of Ancient Art”, published posthumously in Dresden in 1764, 44 years prior to the discovery of the Venus de Milo, Winkelmann established many important methods in the history of art and archeology. The book was the product of several years of study in Rome. Winkelmann uses Vasari’s methods as a stepping-stone, he follows the biological cycle but modifies the approach by insisting the individual artist has little to do in the grand scheme of art history. He is the first scholar to approach this subject as a history of art rather than a history of artists.
Winkelmann criticized that previous scholars only knew of art from books and had not seen the work with their own eyes. He demands that one must spend at least two years in Rome to even begin to write about ancient art. The scholar must see works in person and multiple times. Winckelmann only observed Roman copies of Greek sculptures and in fact did not know that some of the works he studied were copies, including the Apollo Belvedere. He in fact never got the chance to travel to Greece before his tragic death. However, there is much to learn from Winckelmann’s contributions of understanding ancient art. He established the concept of connoisseurship and was the first to coin the distinctions between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art. The art historian is...
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