Winckelmann was in all respects a character who was honest with himself and with others. His native love of truth constantly developed, the more independent and unhampered he felt, until he finally considered the polite indulgence of errors traditional in life and in literature to be a crime.
Such a nature could comfortably withdraw into itself; vet even here we discover in him the ancient characteristic of always being occupied with himself, but without really observing himself. He thinks only of himself, not about himself; his mind is occupied with what he has before him; he is interested in his whole being, in its entire compass, and he cherishes the belief that his friends are likewise interested therein. We, therefore, find everything mentioned in his letters, from the highest moral to the most common physical need; indeed he directly states that he preferred to be entertained with personal trifles rather than with important affairs. At the same time he remains a complete riddle to himself, and even expresses astonishment over his own being, especially in consideration of what he was and what he had become. But every man may thus be regarded as a charade of many syllables, of which he himself can spell only a few, while others easily decipher the whole word.
Nor do we find in him any pronounced principles. His unerring feeling and cultured mind served him as a guide in morals as well as in aesthetics. His ideal was a kind of natural religion, in which God appears as the ultimate source of the beautiful and hardly as a being having any other relation to man. His conduct was most beautiful in all cases involving duty and gratitude.
His provision for himself was moderate, and not the same at all times. He always labored most diligently to secure a competence for his old age. His means are noble; in his efforts to attain every end he shows himself honest, straightforward, even defiant, and at the same time clever and persevering. He never works after a fixed plan, but always instinctively and passionately. His pleasure in every discovery is intense, for which reason errors are unavoidable, which, however, in his rapid progress are corrected as quickly as he sees them. Here also he always maintains an antique principle; the certainty of the point of departure, the uncertainty of the aim to be reached, as well as the incomplete and imperfect character of the treatment as soon as it becomes extensive.
Little prepared by his early mode of life, Winckelmann did not at first feel at ease in company, but a feeling of dignity soon took the place of education and custom, and he learned very rapidly to conduct himself in accordance with his surroundings. The gratification felt in association with distinguished, wealthy and celebrated people and the pleasure of being esteemed by them everywhere appears. As regards facility of intercourse, he could not have found himself in a better place than Rome.