Even at an early period he applied this ideal to a probably unworthy object; to whom he consecrated himself, for whom he vowed himself to live and to suffer; for whom he found even in his poverty the means of being rich, of giving and of sacrificing; indeed he would not have hesitated to surrender his existence, his very life. It is in this relation that Winckelmann, even in the midst of poverty and need, feels rich, generous and happy, because he is able to do something for him whom he loves above everything else, and in whom he has, as the highest sacrifice, to excuse even ingratitude.
However the times and circumstances might alter, Winckelmann reshaped every object of worth with which he came in contact, to fit this ideal of friendship. Although many of these attachments easily and quickly vanish, the fine sentiment underlying them won for him the heart of many an excellent man, and brought him the happiness of living in the most beautiful relation with the best men of his age and environment.
Although such a deep need of friendship really creates and idealizes the object of its affection, the lover of antiquity would, through it alone, achieve only a one-sided moral excellence. The external world would offer him little, if along with it a related, similar need and a satisfying object of this need did not fortunately appear—we refer to the demand for the sensuously beautiful, as revealed in a tangible object. For the supreme product of an ever evolving nature is the beautiful man. It is true that Nature can but seldom produce him, because the ideal is opposed by many existing conditions, and even her almighty power cannot tarry long with the perfect, and perpetuate the beauty it has produced; for, to be exact, we may say it is only for a moment that the beautiful man remains beautiful.
Against this mutability art now enters the lists. For, by being placed at the summit of nature, man views himself as a complete nature, which must now produce another consummation. He attains this end by striving for virtue and perfection, by appealing to selection, arrangement, harmony and significance, through which he at length rises to the production of a work of art, which achieves a brilliant place among his other works and actions. Once achieved and standing in its ideal reality before the world, it produces a lasting and supreme effect. For in its spiritual development from all of man’s powers, it adopts all that is noble and lovable; and by spiritualizing the human form and raising man above himself, it closes the circle of his life and activity, and deifies him in the present, in which both past and future are included. By such emotions were those overwhelmed who saw the Olympian Jupiter, as we gather from the descriptions and testimony of the ancients. God had become man in order to raise man to God. One beheld supreme dignity and was inspired by supreme beauty. In this sense we can only acknowledge that the ancients were right when they said, with profoundest conviction, that it was a misfortune to die without having seen this great work.