Category: Objects

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

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.

John Trumbull’s ‘The Declaration of Independence’

John Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence is an iconic image of American history and a rich example of a Bilderfahrzeug functioning in the context of nationhood. On the one hand, the image’s multiple instantiations are key to its wide transmission, existing as it does as three paintings by Trumbull and a number of especially mobile 19th century engravings after those paintings, to say nothing of its more recent dissemination by more modern means.

Meaningful Forgeries: Some Remarks on ‘Executioner’s Masks’

Two ‘executioner’s masks’ housed in the collection of the pharmaceutical entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936) have recently been exposed as historiographical forgeries manufactured by the nineteenth-century imaginary. Previously these objects were believed to have covered the face of the executioner during capital punishment, either to disguise his identity or to protect him from the ‘evil eye’ of the dead convict. In an article for History Today, Alison Kinney argued that such notions do not match with early modern written and visual documentation but rather with Victorian ‘gothic’ sensibilities. In fact, the masks seem to have complied with a very modern penal reform agenda that removed executions from the public. Still today in the United States contemporary executioners wear ‘reinvented’ covers to avoid identification.

Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Ice Watch’

On 11 December 2018, Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing invited London’s art public to participate in their Climate Action. “Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing” requests the large panel on the façade of the Tate Modern, which introduces the installation Ice Watch. In front of the industrial building Eliasson and Rosing positioned 24 blocks of ice in the style of ancient stone circles. These blocks were taken from the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord in Greenland, after their detachment from the ice layer.

Tracey Emin’s Tent

In her artistic oeuvre, the British artist Tracey Emin explores existential issues, such as female sexuality and the sexually coded body, as well as the use of handicraft techniques such as sewing and weaving. Sewing, or more accurately appliquéing pieces of fabric onto an existing object, namely a tent, is the focus of Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995). The work is considered a turning-point in the Young British Artist’s career. The piece, also known as “The Tent” or “My Tent”, later entered the Charles Saatchi collection, but was destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004.

“Bilderfahrzeug” and “Bilder Omnibus” – a manuscript by Aby Warburg from 1906

In 1906 Aby Warburg writes about the inherent reproducibility and mobility of images in the early Renaissance, naming tapestries as a link between the fresco and the prints: „The adaptable tapestry stands between high art and printing, whose products, as a vehicle of images [Bilderfahrzeug], have usurped its position on the walls of the bourgeois home.”