History of the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft

The tradition of honouring Winckelmann goes back to the first half of the 19th century. On the occasion of his birthday commemoration ceremonies were regularly held at Stendal since 1835, and since 1841 by the Berliner Archäologische Gesellschaft as well. In 1859 the Winckelmann-monument created by Ludwig Wichmann was unveiled. A commemorative plaque was attached to the house where Winckelmann was born. In 1955 the Winckelmann-Museum was established.

The considerable collection of Winckelmannia of Dr Heinrich Segelken, who came to Stendal in 1898 and continously communicated the importance of life and work of Winckelmann to the people of Stendal and the region, is the base stock of the present-day Winckelmann-collection. To supervise the Winckelmann-exhibition and –collection, that were launched in 1938, the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft was founded in 1940 mostly on initiative of Dr Rudolph Grosse.

Because of the committment of the mayor of Stendal it had become possible during the fatal years of the 2nd World War to sustain the autonomy of the society and „to keep away of the influence of National Socialism“ as Rudolph Grosse put it in 1947.

Among the co-founders of the society were famous archaeologists like Gerhart Rodenwaldt, Karl Anton Neugebauer, Martin Schede (president of the German Archaeological Insitute), Georg Lippold, Wilhelm Kraiker, Friedrich Matz, Erich Pernice, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Bernhard Schweitzer and Carl Weickert as well as the art historian Wilhelm Waetzoldt and the German philologist Walther Rehm. Four years after its formation the society already had 1126 members, domestic and abroad.

After the end of the war Rudolph Grosse, supported by the president of the German Archaeological Institute, Carl Weickert, instigated the reestablishment of the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft. Since 1947 until his death 1949 Grosse acted as chief executive director of the society. During the following years (1949-1964) the society was presided by Dr Arthur Schulz, international contacts as to Italy and France were easily restored and extended. Together with his later sucessor in office, Dr. Gerhard Richter (1963-1968), Schulz founded the Winckelmann-Museum in 1955. Headed by Prof. Dr. Johannes Irmscher as president (1968-1990) and managed by Dr. Max Kunze, who followed Irmscher as president in 1990, the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft started to considerably enlarge its field of activities. Apart from the general assembly, colloquia were annually organized at Stendal since 1972. General topics of these convention were Winckelmann, his oeuvre and is scientific network as well as the role of the academic disciplines associated with Winckelmann. Simultaneously, the editorial activity of the society was expanding. Thanks to a subtle and far-sighted managment the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft was able to pertain its international character and autonomy by abdicating from government controll. Thus, many scholars were given the possibility to communicate freely with their western respectively eastern colleagues.

New opportunities presented itself after 1990 and were answered by the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft with the organization of international conferences. Several projects of great importance for the research on
Winckelmann were launched: for example the historico-critical edition of Winckelmann’s writings in cooperation with the Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur Mainz, or the Winckelmann image database.

In May 2000 the society took over as the governing body of the Winckelmann-Museum. Since then numerous special exhibition were presented, making a broad public acquainted with new results of research on Winckelmann, on antiquity in general as well as on the cultural history of the 18th and 19th century.