Ever since 1755 Winckelmann had been living in Rome on a royal bursary as “Pensionnaire du Roi”, while maintaining strong ties with
his friends at the Court of Dresden. Recently, King Charles III of Bourbon had financed archeological excavations in Pompeii, Herculaneum
and Stabiae. Little was known in German-speaking lands about the sensational discoveries made there. They were guarded as “segreti di
stato” (secrets of state), and the existing material on the subject was scarce and scientifically inadequate.
In 1758, 1762, 1764 and 1767, yearning to see with his own eyes what was coming to light, Winckelmann traveled four times from
Rome to Naples and the province of its Gulf. To honor requests by his Dresden friends and patrons, but also on his own initiative, Winckelmann decided to write an account of the discoveries. He drafted a first paper in 1762, followed by a second, more exhaustive report in
These two works, written in a scholarly yet understandable and lively language, addressed not only his acquaintances at the
Dresden Court, but also the cultivated circles of the German-speaking States.
They had significant resonance, and contributed to
all who lived north of the Alps with the extraordinary finds on the Gulf of Naples.