Germany: Noted historian and father of modern archaeology honoured on new silver coin

The Verkaufsstelle für Sammlermünzen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (VfS) have released (12th October) their latest silver coin for the year which marks the tercentenary anniversary of the birth of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), the founder of scientific archaeology and art history. The coin is the fifth and final silver-coin issue scheduled for 2017.

The genius and writings of Winckelmann, more than of any other single critic, reawakened the popular taste for classical art and were instrumental in generating the neo-classical movement in the arts.  Born in the affluent kingdom of Prussia as the son of a cobbler, Winckelmann’s formative years were deeply influenced by the study of Greek, particularly of Homer. Although he was from a modest background, Winckelmann managed to attend university and studied theology at the University of Halle in 1738 and medicine at the University of Jena from 1741 to 1742. It was not until 1748, as personal librarian to Count von Bünau at Nöthnitz, statesman and historian from the Electorate of Saxony, that he came into contact with the world of Greek art. In 1755, Winckelmann authored the formative essay, “Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst” (Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks). In his publication, he upheld the notion:

The only way for us to become great, or even inimitable if possible, is to imitate the Greeks.

During his lifetime, his essay became the essential manifesto of the Greek ideal in education and art and was soon translated into several languages. Under the influence of the Saxon court, he embraced the Catholic faith, entered into the service of the future Cardinal Achinto, and exchanged his homeland for the city of Rome — then considered second only to Paris as the world’s cultural centre. While in Rome, Winckelmann rose to the esteemed position of librarian of the Vatican, president of antiquities, and later became secretary to Cardinal Albani — who had one of the great private collections of classical art.

Winckelmann’s personal visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum during the early years of their discovery and excavations led to his communications in the form of “open letters,” which exposed the blunders of amateur treasure seekers and helped put these excavations into competent hands. For this and his catalogue of ancient gems, he has been regarded as the father of modern archaeology.

While Winckelmann was journeying north over the Alps, his friend, the sculptor and restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, managed to persuade him to travel to Munich and Vienna, where he was received with honour by the empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Sadly, on his way back to the Alps, he was murdered in a hotel in Trieste on the 8th June 1768, by a man named Francesco Arcangeli — allegedly for the medals that Empress Maria Theresa had given him. Winckelmann was buried in the churchyard of Trieste Cathedral.

The coin is designed by the artist Andre Witting from Berlin. The obverse side depicts a classical side profile of Winckelmann facing to the left. The commemorative inscription around the portrait reads 300 GEBURTSTAG JOHANN JOACHIM WINCKELMANN with the years of his birth and death 1717 – 1768 placed just under the portrait. The artist intentionally designed the portrait with a more classical approach, based on many antique coins.

The reverse shows an eagle, the national insignia of the Federal Republic, with the inscription BUNDESREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND along with the coin’s value of 20 EURO and the mintmark F which references the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Mint in Stuttgart. The year 2017 and the 12 stars representing the original member states of the European Union are placed on the lower half on either side of the depiction of the eagle. In addition, the indication SILVER 925 is seen just below and next to the coin’s year of issue. The edge of the coin includes the lettering EDLE EINFALT UND STILLE GRÖSSE.

Denom. Metal Weight Diameter Quality Maximum Mintage
€20 .925 Silver 18 g 32.5 mm Uncirculated To meet demand
€20 .925 Silver 18 g 32.5 mm Proof 145,000 pieces

The coin is available in both Uncirculated (for its face value in banks and post offices) and Proof quality which are included in the annual year set complete with all five €20 silver coins issued during the year. With the issue of this last silver coin, the set is now also available for purchase. For additional information on this and other coins released by the VfS, the official sales office for collector’s coins of the Federal Republic of Germany

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