Category: Objects

Articles published in this section introduce objects that members of the group are working on in the context of their ongoing research.

Like a leaf in the wind…

While the iconography of leaflets has been researched again and again – especially since Warburg – less so the political agency of their dissemination and their reception. And yet these prints with text and image, already circulating in the late Middle Ages, quite rightly deserve their poetic name: “leaflet” or “flyer”, in German “Flugblatt” (lit.: flying leaf), in French occasionally even “papillon” (“butterfly”).

On the connectivity of fabrics: ‘Gaia mother tree’ by Ernesto Neto

In 2018, the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto created, through a collective process, a monumental textile installation in the main station of Zurich called Gaia mother tree that was organised by the Fondation Beyeler. The textile object looks like a twenty-meter high plant, that reaches up to the ceiling of the station building and fills the entrance hall with bright and warm colours. Its translucent structure is made of mainly yellow, orange, red and light green hand-knotted cotton strips. On closer inspection, the meticulous knotting of the fabric becomes visible.

Locke to Courten: a letter about “Draughts”

“[…] I the last weeke put into the hands of Mr Smith a book seller liveing at the Princes Armes in Pauls Churchyard 26 Draughts of the inhabitants of severall remote parts of the world espetially the East Indies […] For the excellency of the drawing I will not answer they being don by my boy who hath faithfully enough represented the originals they were copyed from.” So wrote the famed philosopher John Locke to his friend William Courten, aka William Charleton, from Amsterdam in August 1687. If these passing remarks concerning the copying work of Locke’s servant, Sylvester Brounower, might at first appear to be of little interest, they take on much more significance when matched with the drawings that they describe. Thanks to the fact that Courten kept a prominent cabinet of curiosities in London that would later be acquired by Hans Sloane, whose collection in turn helped form the basis of the British Museum, we can do just that.

The Grieving Figure in Scenes of Loss and Mourning in Mughal Manuscript Painting

Images depicting sorrow were rare, though not an uncommon genre, contained in illustrated manuscripts produced during the Mughal reign in India (1526 – 1857). The tradition of image-making during Mughal rule can be traced to earlier Timurid (15th century) and Ilkhanid periods (14th century), whose subject mainly consisted of histories of dynasties, Persian poetic and literary works and biographies of Turko-Mongol rulers. Images displaying tragedy and loss were limited to death scenes of legendary and historic rulers, heroes and anti-heroes, and saints and protagonists from literary works. The main corpus of images, however, contained themes that exalted the ruler, depicted his might and strength and displayed his connoisseurship of literature, art and culture. Therefore, despite their limited role, the tragic end of heroes, rulers and saints were as much part of the literary and visual cultural history, as were narratives and legends glorifying their lives.

Modi and Metamorphoses (I)

An aged man, wearing a hat and sporting an impressive moustache looks, somehow sceptical and at the same time absorbed, towards the beholder. The dark dominating tone of the painting is supported by the background and is challenged through the white-yellowish and in some cases green-redish flesh as well as the white thick brushstrokes in the area of the neck. These broad, parallel lines suggest the texture of a fabric and create a dazzling counterpoint to the dark coat.

Consider the Pigeon

It is now both a convention and also a joke to make the title of pieces about animals “Consider the __” where the blank is the name of the animal. This is because of a now famous essay that David Foster Wallace wrote called “Consider the Lobster”. So now: Consider the Pigeon. I would like to say that, in my exploration of English baroque in comparative context, that this was a deeply thought decision, to consider pigeons. I would like to say that I have brooded over Haraway and theories of the city in the Anthropocene and the now admittedly trendy idea of “animal studies”. This would be both a truth and a lie. A truth because I have been thinking about these things, but also haven’t had the ability to read them, not in any format other than in purloined pdf files. As we will tell our students someday, we’re all Auerbaching it now in academia; that is, if there is a someday and if I am in it, and if someday there are still students.

1 August 1914 – The First Page of Aby Warburg’s ‘Kriegs-Zibaldone’, his war journal

“On 1 August 1914, after all, the mobilisation was announced. Our Kaiser has proven himself so worthy that he could even lose the war without disgrace; what God may prevent.” Aby Warburg began his war journal of the years 1914–1918 with these words. He positions himself in line with the patriotism of the majority of his milieu of the bourgeoisie, supporting “our Kaiser”. In all the praise of the Kaiser, though, he underlines the uncertain outcome of the war, even the possibility of losing it— a notion present already in the very first sentence of this diary.

From the Archive II: Reading the Yates Family Archive

In the first half of this two-part blog about the Yates Family Archive I have introduced the parents of Frances Yates (b. 1899), her three siblings Hannah (b. 1885), Ruby (b. 1887) and James (b. 1889) as well as the house in Claygate from where after the scholar’s death in 1981 the Family Archive, an adjunct to Yates’ working papers, had been transferred to the Warburg Institute. I shall now turn to the collection itself.

From the Archive I: Cataloguing the Yates Family Archive

In her “Autobiographical Fragments”, written in the year of her death, Frances Yates (1899-1981) refers to a photograph from her childhood. It relates to a period in 1912, when her family was briefly living on a farm in Ingleton in North-Yorkshire. The twelve-year old Frances had been told by her family to work through the books for the Junior Cambridge examination as to supplement her irregular teaching: “I think that this is why I was making an elaborate study of Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome,’ …. or passionately declaiming ‘Lars Porsena of Clusium By the nine gods he swore’ to the lamb in the field opposite. I have a snapshot of that lamb standing quite alone in the distance … and looking slightly worried.”

The deadly danger of globalization: On the political iconography of the corona virus

Guest contribution by Teng Yuning, Peking University/Universität Hamburg

On the 23rd of January this year, China announced the implementation of a lockdown strategy in Wuhan, a city with a population of 11 million people and the center of the corona virus outbreak. Very quickly, public life in the country came to a near standstill and panic began to spread throughout the population. It was hard to believe that quarantine measures on such an enormous scale could be possible in the modern world. A few days later, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel featured a photograph on its cover showing a Chinese man wearing a red raincoat as a protective suit, a large and striking gas mask, goggles, earphones and holding a red Apple iPhone.

Caricaturing Mill, Empirically

To read an individual’s inner character from their outward appearance is to indulge a deep-seated temptation that has perennially plagued the history of art. Often manifesting itself in drawings of typical expressions or personalities—to say nothing of its troubled connections to theories of race—the very act of visualizing an inner mind by way of outer forms quite easily gives way to another prevalent practice: caricature, the intentional distortion of a given person’s distinctive features for expressive effect.

The paved floor of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Designing the iconic London churches of the late 17th to early 18th century was a collaborative endeavor. As much as one might attribute broad conceptual sweeps to figures like Wren and Hawksmoor, like today’s phenomenon of the ‘Starchitect’, they had many designers working under them, producing some of what might be the most iconic aspects of the structures today. In its catalogue of the churchyard and miscellaneous Wren Office Drawings of the building, the archive at St. Paul’s attributes the plan for the building’s black and white paving to William Dickinson. Dickinson was one of many draughtsmen who worked under Wren, including Hawksmoor, but also others who rarely get the notice of history beyond a footnote in a Pevsner Guide or a stray short article.

Temporal Lesions: Warburg Draws the Brain

In the spring of 1892, the young Aby Warburg impetuously abandoned what he saw as the “aestheticizing” excesses of art history to pursue a career in the hard science of medicine. In the end, his medical studies at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin lasted only a single semester; yet as would only become clear much later, this phase of study left a deep impression upon his thinking. Following the lectures of the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus – a pioneer of the experimental study of recollection and forgetting – Warburg was initiated into the state of the art of contemporary neurological research, including the problem of cerebral localization.

Qal’At Al Bahrain

Qal’At Al Bahrain is one of the most ancient places in the Gulf. The city’s beginnings date back to 2200 BC and it remained active up until the seventeenth century, when the site gradually started to lose in importance. It is a UNESCO world heritage site since 2005. The site is surrounded by palm groves, though the vicinity to the skyline of Manama (Bahrain’s capital) also provides a remarkable visual backdrop. Its strategic position, more or less in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, was quite important through the ages as a kind of economic trade hub. This becomes clear by visiting the site. In the context of the Bilderfahrzeuge project, those trade exchanges on the island through the centuries were intercultural interactions where the question of movement was a crucial one at the level of language and, most of all, at the level of the artefacts that were exchanged in the harbour or even remained there, no matter how low or high their value was.

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