In such an overloaded condition was the villa of his lord and friend when Winckelmann departed this scene of his highest and most gratifying education. So also it remained after the death of the cardinal, to the joy and wonder of the world, until in the course of all-changing, all-dispersing time, it was robbed of its entire adornment. The statues were removed from their niches and pedestals, the bas-reliefs were torn from the walls, and the whole enormous collection was packed for transportation. Through an extraordinary change of affairs these treasures were conducted only as far as the Tiber. In a short time they were returned to the possessor, and the greatest part of them, except a few jewels, still remain in the old location. Winckelmann might have witnessed the first sad fate of this Elysium of art and its extraordinary return; but happily for him, death spared him this earthly suffering for which the joy of the restoration would hardly have made sufficient amends.
But he also encountered many a good fortune upon life’s journey. Not only did the excavations of antiquities proceed energetically and fortunately at Rome, but the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii were at that time partly new, or had remained partly unknown through envy, secrecy and delay. He thus reaped a harvest which furnished work enough for his mind and his activities.
It is a sad thing when one is compelled to consider the existing as accomplished and completed. Armories, galleries and museums to which nothing is added have something funereal and ghostly about them; the mind is restricted in such a limited field of art. One becomes accustomed to regard such collections as completed, instead of being reminded of the necessity of constant acquisition and of the fact that, in art as in life, nothing is completed but is constantly changing.
Winckelmann found himself in a fortunate position. The earth gave up her treasures, and through a constant, active commerce in art many ancient possessions came to light, passed before his eyes, aroused his enthusiasm, challenged his judgment, and increased his knowledge.
No small advantage accrued to him through his relations with the heir of the large Stosch collection. Not until after the death of the collector did he become acquainted with this little world of art, over which he presided in accordance with his best judgment and convictions. It is true that all parts of this exceedingly valuable collection were not treated with equal care; the whole of it deserved a catalogue for the delectation and the use of later amateurs and collectors. Much was squandered; but in order to make the excellent gems which it contained better known and more marketable, Winckelmann undertook in conjunction with the heir of Stosch to write a catalogue, concerning which undertaking, its hasty but always able treatment, the surviving correspondence furnishes remarkable testimony.