Aby WARBURG (1866-1929)

Historian of culture, he was founder of the Kulturwissenschaftlichen Bibliotheck Warburg in Hamburg where Bing, Saxl, Caissirer and Panofsky carried out research work. Following his death and with the advent of National Socialism, the institute moved to London and became the Warburg Institute. Here Gombrich was its director for many years.
During his lifetime and for our lifetime Warburg invented a singular “story of images” nurtured by the concepts of Nachleben (survival) and Pathosformel (formula of pathos). If it is obvious that the concept of survival indicates a “continuity” of forms from Ancient culture, the truth is that, for Warburg, such a movement ran under psychological, expressive drives as well as from elaborative processes and the congenital “transformation” of works of art and images that the concept of the formula of pathos underlines. In fact the forms that interested Warburg were the fruit of long processes of sedimentation becoming condensers of energy capable of bursting forth in untimely fashion into the art and culture of later periods, alike the Nymph that breaks through Ghirlandaio’s Birth of John the Baptist (Florence, Santa Maria Novella, 1486-90). Warburg was thus able to observe lines of continuity/transformation between the Laocoön, the “snake ritual” of the Hopi Indians and the figure of thunder in the drawing of a Westernised Indian child; or even observing the relationship between the gestuality of Orpheus’s murder and the posture of a golf player, his contemporary.
With his first study on The Birth of Venus and the Spring by Sandro Boticelli (1893; pt. trans. 2012) Warburg proposed new methodological subject matters by delving deeply into the relationship between documental archives and the animation of images, between historical interpretation and visual experience.
His library and the Mnemosyme atlas of images constitute the final steps of his project. Hereby he assumes the risk of thinking in conjunction the anachronism of historical time and the effectiveness of images as well as their mutual and intense transformations.

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