Using the palace records from the Vatican's Secret Archives, Ruprecht demonstrates that the Vatican museum was the brainchild of J.J. Winckelmann, the so-called father of Art History. Tracing both Winckelmann's secret involvement in the emergence of modern art museums and modern art history and their emergence from within religious institutions, the author offers a new perspective on the relationship of religion and art in the modern world.
“This is a truly remarkable book. Based on meticulous research in the archives of the Vatican, it has all the suspense of a great detective story. As we follow this gripping account of the career of Winckelmann in the Rome of the eighteenth century, from the moment of his arrival in 1754 to his tragic and ambiguous death in 1768, we become witnesses to a hitherto unconsidered turning point in the consciousness of Europe—a closed religious world becomes public, paganism loses its sinister religious aura to become a religion of art, the museum is born and, with it, the modern sense of the profane: and all this in the Rome of the popes! It is not often that we are introduced with such artistry and with so humane a touch to a revolution of the mind which lies at the root of the modern imagination.” --Peter Brown, Rollins Professor of History, Princeton University
“Ruprecht has written a thoroughly original, profoundly insightful, and uniquely compelling book. I can think of no one better equipped to bring the modern world to light in new ways than Ruprecht, whose eye for detail and penetrating analysis is especially illuminating around the topic of religion. The 'secret history' associated with the life of Winckelmann and the world of art in the Vatican is revealed by Ruprecht to be glaringly present in the world around us--not only in public museums, but also public perceptions of the profane, and the sacred.” --Gary Laderman, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Religion, Emory University
“Ruprecht leads us on a pilgrimage to the profane side of the Vatican; reexamining the creation of modern art history via ancient Greek relics and papal receipts to reveal the mysteries surrounding Winckelmann's key role in the middle of it all. Part scholar, part detective, Ruprecht moves easily through time periods and scholarly disciplines, asking as many penetrating questions as he uncovers startling answers.” --Mike Lippman, Lecturer, Department of Classics, The University of Arizona
“Professor Ruprecht’s latest book, on Wincklemann’s central role in the formation of the Vatican Museo Profano, is a brilliant, nuanced, and stunning contribution to our understanding of the emergence of public art museums. Much more than that, it animates anew the question of the character of our modernity: the dispersal of what Paul Tillich called matters of ultimate concern away from the frame of religion to value spheres like art and politics. The book will be of high interest to scholars of art history, religious studies, the history of modernity, and Continental philosophy.” --Michael Schwartz, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Art, Augusta State University; Co-Founder, Comparative and Continental Philosophy Circle
“This is a story never before told, a story that casts new light both on the history of the museum as a cultural institution and on the decisive role that Winckelmann played in this history. Ruprecht tells the story masterfully.” --John Sallis, Boston College