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Helbig, Wolfgang

    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    Full Name: Helbig, Wolfgang

    Other Names:

    • Wolfgang Helbig

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 02 February 1839

    Date Died: 06 October 1915

    Place Born: Dresden, Saxony, Germany

    Place Died: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): archaeology


    Second to the Secretary of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome 1865-1887, afterwards a private art dealer implicated in forgies and researcher in Rome. Helbig was the son of a Gymnasium (humanities high school) teacher in Dresden. He studied at Göttingen and then at Bonn where he was a student of classicist Friedrich Ritschl (1806-1876) and Otto Jahn. In 1862 he was awarded a scholarship to the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut or German Archaeological Institute) in Rome; he remained in that city the rest of his life. The Institut was then headed by Wilhelm Henzen (1816-1887) and Enrico Brunn as Secretary (assistant director). Association with the prestigeous DAI included evening social functions with actors, writer and artists to which Helbig was drawn. He formed a relationship with the talented but unscrupulous restorer and gem cutter Fancesco Martinetti (1833-1895). That same year, 1862, Helbig advised Martinetti on incising mythological scenes on some cista, bronze boxes found in the Praenestine digs, making them much more valuable. Helbig’s 1863 work on Latin inscriptions from the Etruscan digs in Palestrina were incorporated into Ritschl’s subsequent study. He succeeded Brunn as Secretary in 1865 when Brunn left for Munich, which Helbig held until 1887. He married a Russian princess, Principessa Nadejda [Nadine] Schakowskoy [or Schakowsky] (1847-1922) who further assured his entrance in the Roman social scene. In 1868 his Untersuchungen über die campanische Wandmalerei appeared in its first volume. In this and other works, Helbig traced the Hellenistic relationship to the wall painting at Pompeii. In 1871. Helbig participated in an elborate documentary deception of another cita, dictating information to Marinetti to send (back) to Helbing in a letter of documentation. It was sold to the British Museum. Meanwhile, Helbig’s genuine scholarship took off. He published Die Italiker in der Po-ebene, 1879, which supported and more widely established the “Pigorini hypothesis,” a theory that the north Italian terramara area as the incipience of prehistoric Italy. This caused a bitter feud with Edoardo Brizio over the origin of the Etruscans, both men asserting the pride of their respective nationalities. Helbig contended they were northern peoples and Brizio asserted their origin from the east. In 1884 Helbig published his Homerische Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert, a work comparing the descriptions contained in Homer’s poem (then thought to be ninth century) with the recent Mycenaen shaft grave finds of Heinrich Schliemann. In 1887 he left the Institut to deal in antiquities. Helbig also acted as a procurer of antique art for various constituencies in Europe. His clients included Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914), founder of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen, who christened the Etruscan object Helbig acquired for it the “Helbig Museum.” Martinetti outright forged the Praenestine Fibula, which Helbig subsequently documented as purportedly part of the Bernardini tomb. In 1891 Helbig published an extensive guide to the collections in Rome, the Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom. Helbig published several more editions of the book, a third, 1912-1913, published by the travel-guide magnet Karl Baedecker. He and his wife are buried at the Campo Cestio, Rome. The manual was updated 1963-1972 by members of the DAI. As a scholar, Helbig’s work remains important. His differentiation between Homeric times and classical Greece was one of the important reasons why the classicist Sir John L. Myres (1869-1954) could term Helbig’s Homerische Epos “the standard textbook,” though that status caused serious problems for archaeology in the immediate years afterward. Helbig’s conjectural Ionia as the place of Homer’s travels was subsequently discounted by the discoveries at Samos (1894), Miletos (1899) and Ephesos (1904).

    Selected Bibliography

    and Donner, Otto. Wandgemälde der vom Vesuv verschütteten Städte Campaniens. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1868; and Reisch, Emil. Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom. 2 vols. Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1891; Homerische Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1884; Die Italiker in der Po-ebene. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1879; “Ein ägyptisches Grabgemälde und die mykenische Frage.” Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-philoogische und der historische Classe der königlichen bayerishen Akademie der Wissenschaften 3, (1896): 539-538.


    Archäologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archäologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 71-72; Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 576-578; Helbig, Nadina Schakowskoy. Sketches from the Trastevere. Aberdeen: 1914; Myres, John L. Homer and his Critics. London: 1958, pp. 150-155.


    "Helbig, Wolfgang." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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