J. J. Winckelmann on Greeks and Italians
from J. J. Winckelmann, The History of Ancient Art, Book I, Chapter III, Translated by G. Henry Lodge, M.D., Boston, 1880

Left: Evelina Papantoniou, a Greek, Right: Rossella Brescia, an Italian

6. The well-known fact of the earlier maturity and puberty of youth in warm countries shows how much more powerful in them is the influence of nature over the complete development of our race; and the brilliancy of the brighter color of the eyes, which are more frequently brown or black than is the case in cold climates, may offer -to those who are unable to pursue the inquiry themselves- additional probability in favor of the superiority of conformation to be found in warm climates. This differences shows itself even in the hair of the head and of the beard, and both, in warm climates, have a more beautiful growth even from childhood, so that the greater number of children in Italy are born with fine curling hair, which loses none of its beauty with increasing years. All the beards, also, are curly, ample, and finely shaped; whereas, those of the pilgrims who come to Rome from the other side of the Alps are, generally, like the hair of their heads, stiff, bristly, straight, and pointed; so that it would be difficult, in the countries of these privileged idlers, to grow a beard like those which we see on the heads of the ancient Greek philosophers. In accordance with this observation, the ancient artists figured the Gauls and Celts with straight hair, as we may see on several monuments, but especially on two seated figures of captive warriors of these races which are in the villa of the Cardinal Alexander Albani. In connection with these remarks upon the hair, I will observe that fair hair is not of so frequent occurrence in warm as in cold climates; but still it is common, and beautiful persons with hair of this languishing color are seen in the former as well as in the latter, - with this difference, however, that the color of it never becomes entirely whitish, the usual effect of which is to give to a person an air of coldness and insipidity.

9. Precisely the same reflection may be made in reference to the modern Greeks. For -not to mention that their blood during several centuries has been mingled with that of the descendants of so many nations who have settled among them- it is easy to conceive that their present political condition, bringing up, instruction, and mode of thought may have an influence even on their conformation. Notwithstanding all these unfavorable conditions, the Greek race of the present day is still celebrated for its beauty; on this point all observant travellers agree; and the nearer we draw to the climate of Greece, the more beautiful, lofty, and vigorous is the conformation of man.

10. For this reason, we seldom find in the fairest portions of Italy the features of the face unfinished, vague, and inexpressive, as it is frequently the case on the other side of the Alps; but they have partly an air of nobleness, partly of acuteness and intelligence; and the form of the face is generally large and full, and the parts of it in harmony with each other. The superiority of conformation is so manifest, that the head of the humblest man among the people might be introduced in the most dignified historical painting, especially one in which aged men are to be represented. And among the women of this class, even in places of the least importance, it would not be difficult to find a Juno. The lower portion of Italy, which enjoys a softer climate than any other part of it, brings forth men of superb and vigorously defined forms, which appear to have been made, as it were, for the purposes of sculpture. The large stature of the inhabitants of this section must be apparent to everyone; and the fine development and robustness of their frames may be most easily seen in the half-naked sailors, fishermen, and others whose occupation is by the sea; and precisely from that circumstance might seem to have originated the fable of the mighty Titans contending with the Gods in the Phlegraean Fields, -which were near Pozzuoli, in the vicinity of Naples. It is asserted that, in Sicily, the handsomest women of the island are found, even at the present day, in ancient Eryx, where the celebreated temple of Venus was situated.

11. He who has never visited these countries can form his own conclusions as to the intellectual organization of their inhabitants, by observing that their acuteness increases as the climate grows warmer. The Neapolitans are still more acute and artful than the Romans; the Sicilians are more so than the Neapolitans; but the Greeks surpass even the Sicilians. Between Rome and Athens there is probably a difference of about one month in the warmth of the season and in the ripening of the fruits, -as the cutting of the honey out of the hives proves; for in the latter place it would happen about the solstice in June; but in the former, on the festival of Vulcan, or in the month of August. In fine, what Cicero says is true here, that "intellects are more acute, the purer and more subtile the air"; for the same disposition seems to prevail with man as with flowers, whose fragrance increases in proportion to the dryness of the soil, and the warmth of the climate.

12. Consequently, that noble beauty which consists not merely in a soft skin, a brilliant complexion, wanton or languishing eyes, but in the shape and form, is found more frequently in countries which enjoy a uniform mildness of climate. If, therefore, the Italians alone know how to paint and figure beauty, as an English author says, the beautiful conformation of the people themselves is a measure, the ground of their capability, which the daily view and study of beauty can produce more readily here than elsewhere. Beauty. however, was not a general quality, even among the Greeks, and Cotta in Cicero says that, among the great numbers of young persons at Athens, there were only a few possessing true beauty.

13. The most beautiful race among the Greeks, especially in regard to complexion, must have been been beneath the skies of Ionia, in Asia Minor, according to the testimony of Hippocrates and Lucian; and another writer, in order to express manly beauty with one word, terms it Ionic. This province is also productive, even at the present day, in beautiful conformations, as appears from the statement of an observant traveller of the sixteenth century, who finds himself unable to extol sufficiently the beauty of the women there, their soft and milk-white skin, and fresh and healthful color. For in this land, on account of its situation, and in the islands of the Archipelago, the sky is much clearer, and the temperature -which is intermediate between warm and cold- more constant and uniform, than it is even in Greece, especially in those parts of it lying on the sea, which are very much exposed to the sultry wind from Africa, like all the southern coast of Italy, and other lands, which lie opposite to the the hot tract in Africa...

14. The proof, easy to be understood, of the superiority of shape of the Greeks and the present inhabitants of the Levant, lies in the fact that we find among them no flattened noses, which are the greatest disfigurement of the face. Scaliger seems to have observed that the Jews also have no sunken noses; indeed, the Portuguese Jews most generally have hawk-noses; hence, a nose of this kind is termed in Portugal a Jewish nose. Vesalius has noted that the heads of the Greeks and Turks are of a handsomer oval that those of the Germans and Dutch...

15. At the same time that I acknowledge the superiority of warmer countries in the more general diffusion of beauty of conformation, I do not therefore deny beauty of shape to colder climates; I know persons, even of low station, on the other side of the Alps, in whom Nature has executed her work with the utmost perfection and beauty...

23. In lands where some remnant of former freedom co-operates with the influence of climate, the present manner of thinking is very similar to the past. An illustration of my remark is now seen in Rome, where the people, under a priestly rule, enjoy unrestrained freedom. Even at the present day, a band of the most valiant and intrepid warriors might be collected from the midst of them, who, like their forefathers, would bid defiance to death. The women of the common people, with morals less corrupt than those of the ancient Roman women, still display the same courage and spirit - as I could prove by some remarkable traits, if the design of my work permitted it.

24. The pre-eminent talent of the Greeks for art still shows itself, in modern days, in the grat and almost general talent of the inhabitants of the warmest portions of Italy; and in this admirable capacity for art the imagination predominates, just as reason predominates over the imagination among the sober-minded Brtons. Some one has remarked, not without reason, that the poets on the other side of the mountains speak through images, but afford few pictures...

The warmer the region is in Italy, the greater are the talents tow which it gives birth, and the more ardent the imagination; and the works of the Sicilian poets are full of rare, new, and unexpected images. This glowing imagination, however, is not of a stimulated and vehement nature: like the temperament of the inhabitants, and the temperature of the country, it is more uniform than in colder climates; for nature bestows a happy dulness of disposition more frequently on the inhabitants of the latter than of the former.

25. When I speak of the natural capacity, generally, of these nations for art, I do not thereby mean to deny the same capacity to individuals in countries on the other side of the mountains, because experience furnishes striking proofs to the contrary...