Friday, 25 January 2013

The Unexpected Undoing of the Garotted German

                     Winckelmann's mind was made up and he set out alone, arriving in Trieste on June 1st, where he took a room in the inn on the main square of the city. Staying at the same inn was a traveller who had arrived, without luggage and on foot, from Venice two days earlier. This stranger introduced Wincklemann to several sea-captains, as he tried to arrange transport forward, and the two travellers became friends, taking coffee and meals together over the next three days, talking at their hotel and visiting each other’s chambers. 

Anton Mengs - Portrait of Johann Winckelmann

They knew each other only as John and Francis, after the Italian custom, and Francis made enquiries of John, as to his character, ostensibly on behalf of the inn’s patron. One evening, to assure him of his good character, John showed Francis his letters of introduction, his passport and in addition he mentioned the medals given to him in Vienna by the Empress and the Prince. Francesco Arcangeli, to give him his full name, started to get suspicious of his new friend, wondering who he might be, and noticed that when he bought snuff, for example, he was very careful about the price. He was probably a Jew, he confided to the coffee-shop keeper, or a Lutheran, or a spy of some sort; he was, said Arcangeli 'un uomo di poco conto' (a man of little account). The sea-captains hedged and made excuses not to sail, and Wincklemann considered continuing overland to Venice but set the idea to one side for the time being. 

Winckelmann - Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums - 1776 Edition

Late one night, after a week had passed, Francis asked John if he would bring his medals to the dinner-table but he refused, saying he did not want to draw attention to himself, and when Francis pressed him to reveal his identity, not wishing to be drawn, he replied, 
I do not wish to be known.” 
As Wincklemann returned to his writing table, Arcangeli slipped a cord around his neck and drew it taut in an attempt to garotte him, but the German fought back and pushed him away, only for Arcangeli to draw a knife, leap at him and stab him five times. A servant, hearing the commotion, came to investigate and saw the Italian lying over the German, bloody blade in hand; he jumped up, pushed past the dumbfounded waiter and ran out into the night. 

Winckelmann - Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums - another 1776 Edition

There was confusion and there were delays, a surgeon was brought and at last the cord was taken from Wincklemann’s throat; he was undressed and laid on a mattress, his wounds were examined and dressed, a policeman arrived and a priest was sent for. Wincklemann was told that two of the wounds were likely to be fatal and extreme unction was administered, his papers were examined -  
Joanni Winckelmann, præcsfecto antiquitatum Romæ. In almam urbem redit — John Winckelmann, Superintendent of Antiquities of Rome. He is returning to the Holy City 
– and a will was drawn up, although he had not strength to sign it. At four o’clock in the afternoon of June 8th 1768, in a hotel room in Trieste, Johann Wincklemann died. He was fifty years old. 

Monument to Winckelmann in his home town of Stendal

Francesco Arcangeli had been born in Campiglio, Tuscany, and had been a cook in his early life, until he stole over five hundred gold pieces from his master, Count Cottaldi, and fled but was captured and sentenced to hang in chains for four years in May 1764. When Archduke Leopold married in 1767, some prisoners, including Arcangeli, were granted remission, and he and a freed servant girl settled in Venice, although he travelled to Trieste, looking for a position. 

He fully intended to murder Wincklemann – the cord had been prepared and double twisted and the knife had been bought new in Trieste – more than likely to steal the medals from Vienna, although some writers have hinted that maybe there was an unwelcome advance, or perhaps an unwanted rebuff, made by one man or the other. He escaped Trieste and made his way to Planina, where he was arrested by soldiers for not having a passport, on June 14th. He was sent first to Adelsburg, where he confessed the murder to the Prefect, and then sent, under armed escort, back to Trieste. He arrived on the following day, his trial commenced immediately and lasted until July 12th, with sentence passed on July 18th – 
For the crime of murder, done by you on the body of John Winckelmann, on the morning of the 8th of June last, the honourable imperial royal Criminal Court has decreed that you, just as you are, shall be broken alive on the wheel, from the head to the feet, until your soul depart from your body; and that your dead body shall remain exposed upon the wheel.” 
Two days later, at ten o’clock in the morning, this sentence was carried out and Francesco Arcangeli was executed at Trieste. He was thirty-one years old.

Tomorrow - Broken on the Wheel

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