But only for a short time, and only as long as it was necessary to secure a moderate means of support, did Winckelmann remain true to his original literary occupation. He soon lost interest also in everything that related to critical investigation, and was willing neither to compare manuscripts nor to give information to German scholars who wished to question him upon many subjects.
But even before this his attainments had served him as an advantageous introduction. The private life of the Italians, especially of the Romans, has, for many reasons, something of a secret character. This secrecy, this isolation, if you will, extended also to literature. Many a scholar devoted his life in secret to an important work, without either desiring or being able to have it published. Here also, more than in any other land, were to be found men who, with diverse attainments and great insight, could not be moved to make them known, either in written or printed form. The way to the society of such men Winckelmann soon found opened. He mentions particularly among them Giacomelli and Baldani, and speaks with pleasure of his increasing acquaintances and his growing influence.
But his greatest good fortune was to become a member of the household of Cardinal Albani. This prelate, possessed of a large fortune and wielding a powerful influence, showed from his very youth a great love of art; he had also the best opportunity of satisfying it and a luck in collecting which verged upon the miraculous. In later years he found his greatest pleasure in the task of placing this collection in worthy surroundings, in this wise rivaling those Roman families who had at an earlier period been cognizant of the value of such treasures. It was, in fact, his chief pleasure to overload the assigned spaces, in accordance with the manner of the ancients. Building crowded upon building, hall upon hall, corridor upon corridor; fountains and obelisks, caryatides and bas-reliefs, statues and vases were lacking neither in court-yard nor in garden, while the greater or smaller rooms, galleries and cabinets contained the choicest art specimens of all times.
We observed in passing that the ancients had in a similar manner filled their palaces and gardens. The Romans so overloaded their capital that it seems impossible that everything recorded could have found place there. The Via Sacra, the Forum, the Palatine were so overloaded with buildings and monuments that the imagination can hardly conceive of a crowd of people finding room in any of them. Fortunately the actual results of excavated cities come to our assistance, and we can see with our own eyes how narrow, how small, how, so to speak, like architectural models rather than real buildings these structures are. This remark is true even of the Villa of Hadrian, in the construction of which there were space and wealth enough for something extensive.