Having studied classical philology at the university of Giessen, he was appointed (1803) master in the high school, an office which he combined with that of lecturer at the university. In 1806 he journeyed to Italy, and was for more than a year private tutor at Rome in the family of Wilhelm von Humboldt, who became his friend and correspondent.
Welcker returned to Giessen in 1808, and resuming his school-teaching and university lectures was in the following year appointed the first professor of Greek literature and archaeology at that or any German university. After serving as a volunteer in the campaign of 1814 he went to Copenhagen to edit the posthumous papers of the Danish archaeologist Georg Zoega (1755-1809), and published his biography, Zoegas Leben (Stutt. 1819).
His liberalism in politics having brought him into conflict with the university authorities of Giessen, he exchanged that university for Göttingen in 1816, and three years later received a chair at the new university of Bonn, where he established the art museum and the library, of which he became the first librarian.
In 1841-1843 he travelled in Greece and Italy (cf. his Tagebuch, Berlin, 1865), retired from the librarianship in 1854, and in 1861 from his professorship, but continued to reside at Bonn until his death.
Welcker was a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and was one of the first to insist, in opposition to the narrow methods of the older Hellenists, on the necessity of co-ordinating the study of Greek art and religion with philology.
Besides early work on Aristophanes, Pindar, and Sappho, whose character he vindicated, he edited Alcman (1815), Hipponax (1817), Theognis (1826) and the Theogony of Hesiod (1865), and published a Sylloge epigrammatum Graecorum (Bonn, 1828). His Griechische Götterlehre (3 vols., Göttingen, 1857-1862) may be regarded as the first scientific treatise on Greek religion. Among his works on Greek literature the chief are Die Äschyleische Trilogie (1824, 6), Der epische Zyklus oder die Homerischen Geschichte (2 vols. 1835, 49), Die griechischen Tragödien mit Rücksicht auf den epischen Zyklus geordnet (3 vols., 1839-1841). His editions and biography of Zoega, his Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Auslegung der alten Kunst (Göttingen, 1817, 8) and his Alte Denkmäler (5 vols., 1849-1864) contain his views on ancient art.
See Kekule Das Leben F.G. Welckers (Leipzig, 1880); W. von Humboldt's Briefe an Welcker (ed. R. Haym, Berlin, 1859); J.E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship (vol. iii., pp. 216, 7, Cambridge, 1908).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.