As Vout (2006) has recently reminded us in this journal, Johann Joachim Winckelmann's History of the art of antiquity (Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, 1st ed. 1764) is widely considered to be a foundational text in the history of art. Advertising itself as the first ‘systematic’ account of ancient art in relation to its geographical, social and political circumstances, Winckelmann filled out the well-known Plinian chronology of artists with a new analysis in terms of a succession of period styles, providing a satisfyingly scientific justification for the preference his contemporaries were beginning to accord to the art of the Greeks. Small wonder then that the book was lauded as a classic as soon as it appeared in Germany and was quickly translated into French and Italian. Nevertheless, it is also hardly surprising that this text, which promised nothing less than a ‘new paradigm’ for the study of antique culture, has always presented problems to its readers. These are partly caused by its magnitude of ambition. Titled, first and foremost, a ‘history’, Winckelmann's magnum opus in fact attempts to be many things: part systematic exploration of the social and physical factors that condition the development of all art; part impassioned disquisition on the essence of beauty; part antiquarian catalogue of the greatest surviving works of Greek and Roman art; part manual of aesthetic taste for aspiring contemporary artists. Few books since Winckelmann's History can have combined bold claims about their importance as historical scholarship with detailed instructions on how to draw a perfectly beautiful face.