Aby Warburg




art historian.

Country of origin



In 1886 Warburg began his study of art history, history and archaeology in Bonn and attended the lectures on the history of religion by Hermann Usener, those on cultural history by Karl Lamprecht and on art history by Carl Justi. He continued his studies in Munich and with Hubert Janitschek in Strasbourg, completing under him his dissertation on Botticelli's paintings The Birth of Venus and Primavera. From 1888 to 1889 he studied the sources of these pictures at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence. He was now interested in applying the methods of natural science to the human sciences. The dissertation was completed in 1892 and printed in 1893. Warburg's study introduced into art history a new method, that of iconography or iconology, later developed by Erwin Panofsky. After receiving his doctorate Warburg studied for two semesters at the Medical Faculty of the University of Berlin, where he attended lectures on psychology. During this period he undertook a further trip to Florence. In 1897 Warburg married the painter and sculptor Mary Hertz, daughter of Adolph Ferdinand Hertz, a Hamburg senator and member of the Synod of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hamburg, and Maria Gossler, both members of the traditional Hanseatic elite of Hamburg. The couple had three children: Marietta (1899–1973), Max Adolph (1902–1974) and Frede C. Warburg (1904–2004). In 1898 Warburg and his wife took up residence in Florence. While Warburg was repeatedly plagued by depression, the couple enjoyed a lively social life. Among their Florentine circle could be counted the sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand, the writer Isolde Kurz, the English architect and antiquary Herbert Horne, the Dutch Germanist André Jolles and his wife Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg, and the Belgian art historian Jacques Mesnil. The most famous Renaissance specialist of the time, the American Bernard Berenson, was likewise in Florence at this period. Warburg, for his part, renounced all sentimental aestheticism, and in his writings criticised a vulgarised idealisation of an individualism that had been imputed to the Renaissance in the work of Jacob Burckhardt. During his years in Florence Warburg investigated the living conditions and business transactions of Renaissance artists and their patrons as well as, more specifically, the economic situation in the Florence of the early Renaissance and the problems of the transition from the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance. A further product of his Florentine period was his series of lectures on Leonardo da Vinci, held in 1899 at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. In his lectures he discussed Leonardo's study of medieval bestiaries as well as his engagement with the classical theory of proportion of Vitruvius. He also occupied himself with Botticelli's engagement with the Ancients evident in the representation of the clothing of figures. Feminine clothing takes on a symbolic meaning in Warburg's famous essay, inspired by discussions with Jolles, on the nymphs and the figure of the Virgin in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The contrast evident in the painting between the constricting dress of the matrons and the lightly dressed, quick-footed figure on the far right serves as an illustration of the virulent discussion around 1900 concerning the liberation of female clothing from the standards of propriety imposed by a reactionary bourgeoisie. In 1902 the family returned to Hamburg, and Warburg presented the findings of his Florentine research in a series of lectures, but at first did not take on a professorship or any other academic position. He rejected a call to a professorship at the University of Halle in 1912. He became a member of the board of the Völkerkundemuseum, with his brother Max sponsored the foundation of the "Hamburger wissenschatflichen Stiftung" (1907) and the foundation of a university in Hamburg, which succeeded in 1919, and at which he took up a professorship. In December 1927, Warburg started to compose a work in the form of a picture atlas named Mnemosyne. It consisted of 40 wooden panels covered with black cloth, on which were pinned nearly 1,000 pictures from books, magazines, newspaper and other daily life sources.

historian's relations

Florence United States of America Bernard Berenson Sandro Botticelli Leonardo da Vinci Middle Ages fresco painting Erwin Panofsky Humboldt University of Berlin Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich iconography classics Jacob Burckhardt University of Strasbourg art history Warburg Institute Hamburg University of Bonn Jacques Mesnil aestheticism Venus Adolf von Hildebrand nymph Vitruvius Hubert Janitschek Herbert Horne Hermann Usener Carl Justi Isolde Kurz natural science humanities bestiary psychology

Main works

Selected Bibliography: Warburg, A. (1966). La rinascita del paganesimo antico: Contributi alla storia della cultura (Gesammelte Schriften, 1932), Firenze: La Nuova Italia

Warburg, A. (1998). Il rituale del serpente. Una relazione di viaggio (conferenza tenuta nel 1929). Milano: Adelphi

Warburg, A., Gesammelte Schriften. Studien Ausgaben, hrsg. von H. Bredekamp, M. Diers, K.W. Forster, N. Mann, S. Settis, M. Warnke, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1998. Warburg, A. Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, hrsg. von M. Warnke und C. Brink, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2000

Warburg, A. Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftlichen Bibliothek Warburg, hrsg. von K. Michels, C. Schoell-Glass, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2001

Warburg, A. Presença do Antigo: escritos inéditos. Vol. I, Prefácio de M. Ghelardi, organização, tradução e notas de C. Fernandes, Unicamp, Campinas 2018

Warburg, A. El renacimiento del paganismo: aportaciones a la historia cultural del Renacimiento europeo, con la Introducción de K.W. Forster (1999), Prólogo a la edición castellana de F. Pereda, Prólogo de G. Bing (1965), edición de F. Pereda, tr. esp. de E. Sánchez, F. Pereda, Alianza Editorial, Madrid 2005

Warburg, A. The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity, edited by K.W. Forster, eng. trans. by D. Britt, K.W. Forster, Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, Los Angeles 1999

Warburg, A. A renovação da Antiguidade Pagã: contribuições científico-culturais para a história do Renascimento europeu, com H. Bredekamp, M. Diers, Prefácio à edição de estudos, 1998, G. Bing, Prefácio à edição de 1932, tr. port. de M. Hediger, Contraponto, Rio de Janeiro 2013

Warburg, A. (2002). Mnemosyne. L'Atlante delle immagini. Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A. (2003). La 'Nascita di Venere' e la 'Primavera' di Sandro Botticelli: Ricerche sull'immagine dell'antichità nel primo Rinascimento italiano (testo del 1893). Milano: Abscondita

Warburg, A., & Cassirer, E., M. Ghelardi (Ed.). (2003). Il mondo di ieri: Lettere. Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A. (2004). Opere I: La rinascita del paganesimo antico e altri scritti (1889-1914). Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A., & Bing, G. (2005). Diario romano (1928-1929). Torino: Aragno

Binswanger, L., Warburg, A. (2005). La guarigione infinita: Storia clinica di Aby Warburg. Vicenza: Neri Pozza

Warburg, A. (2006). Arte e Astrologia nel Palazzo Schifanoia di Ferrara. Milano: Abscondita

Warburg, A. (2006). Gli Hopi: La sopravvivenza dell'umanità primitiva nella cultura degli Indiani dell'America del Nord. Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A. (2007). Opere II: La rinascita del paganesimo antico e altri scritti (1917-1929). Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A., Stimilli, D. & Wedepohl, C. (Eds.). (2009). Per monstra ad sphaeram. Milano: Abscondita

Warburg, A., Werke in einem Band, Auf der Grundlage der Manuskripte und Handexemplare, hrsg. von M. Treml, S. Weigel, P. Ladwig, Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2010

Warburg, A., Müller, S. (Ed.). (2011). Frammenti sull'espressione. Pisa: Edizioni della Normale

Warburg, A. Calabrese S., & Uboldi, S. (Eds.). (2011). Immagini permanenti: Saggi su arte e divinazione. Bologna: Archetipolibri

Warburg, A., Bilderreihen und Ausstellungen, hrsg. von U. Fleckner, I. Woldt, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2012

Warburg, A.Il primo Rinascimento italiano: Sette conferenze inedite, Targia, G. (Ed.). (2013). Torino: Aragno

Warburg, A. (2015). Arte del ritratto e borghesia fiorentina, seguito da Le ultime volonta di Francesco Sassetti. Milano: Abscondita

Warburg, A. (2019). Astrologica: Saggi e appunti 1908-1929, introduzione. M. Ghelardi (Ed.). Torino: Einaudi

About the scholar

Selected Bibliography: Agamben, G. (1984). Aby Warburg e la scienza senza nome. In "aut aut", (199-200, gennaio-aprile 1984, pp. 51-66)

Cieri Via, C. (2011). Introduzione a Aby Warburg. Bari: Laterza

Cieri Via, C. (Ed.) (2009). Aby Warburg e la cultura italiana: fra sopravvivenze e prospettive di ricerca. Milano: Mondadori

Aby Warburg. La dialettica dell'immagine. "aut aut" n. 321-322, maggio-agosto 2004

Gombrich, E. (1970). Aby Warburg. An intellectual Biography. London: Phaidon

Ginzburg, C. (1986). Da A. Warburg a E. H. Gombrich. Note su un problema di metodo. In: Ginzburg, C. (1986). Miti emblemi spie: Morfologia e storia, Torino: Einaudi

Didi-Huberman, G. (2006). L'immagine insepolta. Aby Warburg, la memoria dei fantasmi e la storia dell'arte, Torino: Bollati Boringhieri

Bertozzi, M. (Ed.) (2002). Aby Warburg e le metamorfosi degli antichi dèi. Modena: Franco Cosimo

Ferretti, S. (1984). Il demone della memoria: Simbolo e tempo storico in Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky. Casale Monferrato: Marietti

Meyer, A. M. (1989). Aby Warburg in His Early Correspondence. American Scholar, 57, 445 e segg.

Meyer, A. M. (1987). Concerning Warburg's ‘Costumi teatrali' and Angelo Solerti. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, L, 1987, 171 e segg.

De Laude, S. (2005). Continuità e variazione: Studi su Ernst Robert Curtius e Aby Warburg. Napoli: Imprint Libri

Magnano San Lio, G. (2014). Ninfe ed ellissi: Frammenti di storia della cultura tra Dilthey, Usener, Warburg e Cassirer. Napoli: Liguori

Campanini, S. (2015). Melencolia II: i rapporti tra Gershom Scholem e l'Istituto Warburg. Un'indagine di storia delle fonti e dei tipi. Schifanoia, 48-49, 45-61


Fondo Aby Warburg