In the studies of the history of Greek art we can distinguish three periods: the first, artistic, which from the beginning of the Renaissance reaches the end of the sixteenth century; the second, doctrinaire or scholar, which includes the seventeenth century and just over the middle of the eighteenth century, the third, scientific, which reaches up to the present day.
In the first period the historical-artistic investigation is intimately connected either with the fine arts or with civil history; the work of art that came to light especially in Italy (Greece and Asia Minor were then almost completely unknown) was considered only from the formal point of view by artists, including supreme Michelangelo Buonarroti, or from the point of view of the content by scholars, for whom any figurative work had to be baptized with mythological or historical names. In the meantime, in this way collections of ancient works of art are being established, including the Capitoline one in Rome (beginning in 1471), the Vatican in the Belvedere courtyard (around 1506) and, among the private collections, the Farnese one (1530 approximately).
In the second period, historical and philological erudition prevails, so that, rather than studies of art history, we must speak of antiquarian studies. It is the period of the works in which huge masses of monuments of various kinds are collected, sorted, depicted and commented on. Now the knowledge of Greece begins with the journey of the ambassador of Louis XIV to the Sublime Porta, the Marquis of Nointel, a journey in which the Italian antiquarian Cornelio Magni (1670 et seq.) Participates, and with that of Greece Spon and Greece. Wheler (1676), followed by the publications of Spon, Voyage d’Italie, de Grèce et du Levant, Lione 1678 and of Wheler, A journey into Greece, London 1682. The Society of Amateurs is founded in London in 1733, while towards the end of this period the Englishmen Greece Stuart and N. Revett travel to the Hellenic East (1751-54).
Among the great works are worth mentioning: Giacomo Gronov, Thesaurus antiquitatum graecarum, voll. 13, 1694-1701; Bernard of Montfaucon, L ‘ antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, vols. 15, 1719-1724; AC Ph. De Caylus, Recueil d’antiquités égyptiennes, etrusques, grecques et romaines, vols. 7, 1752-1767.
The third period can be said to begin with the main work of the founder of the history of ancient art, Giovanni Gioacchino Winckelmann (1717-1768), that is, with the Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, Dresden 1764; add, to corroborate the new direction in the study of ancient art, especially Greek, the Anmerkungen über die Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, Dresden 1767 and the unpublished ancient monuments, Rome 1767, by Winckelmann himself. Winckelmann creates the history of art by applying the concepts of progressive development and causality in human actions. He exposes the system, observes and declares the laws of development, which are various according to places and times, bases the examination of the monuments, something completely new, on the style, penetrating into the beauty of the work of art, in whose study the concept must not be dissociated from the form. Therefore Winckelmann maintained the need to study the monuments on the originals or on the casts and not on the drawings; in the stylistic examination he distinctly distinguished the old from the new; destroyed the false belief that the patrimony of sculptural art was Roman, recognizing instead how many statues were copies of Greek originals, finally declared that the Greek art for its excellence must be the main topic of the history of ancient art. In his work he tried to fix the chronology of the artists, and came to identifications of works of art that have come down to us in copies with works mentioned by the ancients. He certainly made mistakes and erroneous evaluations, and unfortunately he had no knowledge of Greek originals, apart from very few and not always exactly judged. But it is certain that Winckelmann’s work marks the beginning of a new science, that is, of the science of the history of art. Meanwhile, the reconnaissance of Greece and Asia Minor continued with greater impetus, especially through the work of the Society of Amateurs, and the soil of Italy, mainly of Rome, returned outstanding works, partly original, partly copies of Greek art.Pio Clementino Museum in seven volumes: here the Visconti identifies the Aphrodite Cnidia and the resting Satyr of Praxiteles, the Ganymede of Leocare, the Týche of Eutichides, while in 1783 Carlo Fea identifies the Discobolus of Mirone. Meanwhile, investigations continue on Greek soil, especially as regards the Parthenon and the sanctuary of Olympia (Choiseul-Gouffier and Fauvel), and the findings on Italian soil, in Rome, Ostia, Pompeii.
The treaty of Tolentino (1797) is the beginning of the great artistic robbery perpetrated by Napoleon to the detriment of Italy, with the consequent establishment of the Musée Napoléon, in which the approach of many and many ancient works of art nevertheless benefited the best knowledge of this.