Early historian to use written documents to support art research (e.g., Die antiken Schriftquellen). Overbeck studied at the university in Bonn under Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker. Overbeck's early work was on Pompeii. His monograph on the subject, first appearing in 1856 (and subsequently appearing in four later editions), was the inspiration for the fuller monograph by August Mau. In 1858 Overbeck was named Ordinarius (professor) at the university in Leipzig. He remained at Leipzig for the rest of his life. Throughout his career, he concentrated on publishing corpora (or inventories) of art. His Griechische Kunstmythologie, a corpus of mythological representations in Greek art, began in 1871. It remained uncompleted at his death, in five parts (three volumes). He also was highly interested in the written documentation of classical art. Die Antiken Schriftquellen zur Geschichte appeared beginning in 1868. It drew from sources taken from De pictura veterum (1637) of Franciscus Junius. Overbeck's source documentation was the precursor to many others, including that of Julius Alwin von Schlosser. He died late in 1895 and was succeeded by Franz Studniczka. In addition to his scholarship, Overbeck was a devoted teacher and molded some of the most important classical art scholars of the next generation. These included Georg Loeschcke, Adolf Furtwängler, Paul Arndt, Adolf Michaelis and Theodor Schreiber. The American Lucy Myers Mitchell was inspired by his lectures to study ancient art.
Die antiken Schriftquellen zur Geschichte der bildenden Künste bei den Griechen. Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1868. Geschichte der griechischen Plastik. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1857-58; Pompeji in seinen gebäuden, alterthümern und kunstwerken, für kunst- und alterthumsfreunde. Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1856;
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 32; Archëologenbildnisse: Porträts und Kurzbiographien von Klassichen Archëologen deutscher Sprache. Reinhard Lullies, ed. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1988: 51-52; "Overbeck, Johannes." Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 834-5.