‘Bilderfahrzeuge’, literally meaning image vehicles, is a term, coined by the German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929). It refers to a concept that was of the utmost importance for Warburg, since his work sought to trace lines of continuity linking Antiquity with the Renaissance – lines that he felt materialised out of ‘Bildwanderung’, the migration of images. Of course, Warburg is not the only, and was not the first scholar to have shown an interest in such an idea. Count Goblet D’Alviella’s 1891 study of The Migration of Symbols is only one early case among many displaying a similar approach. But Warburg succeeded in articulating the phenomenon in an iconic fashion: in the form of his famous Bildatlas whose protagonists – motifs, the migration of which across time and space becomes apparent over the course of the atlas’ various panels – are definitive ‘Bilderfahrzeuge’.

Financers and Partners

The research project ‘Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology’ sets out to explore the migration of images, objects, commodities, and texts, in short: the migration of ideas in a broad historical and geographical context. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of  Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung), realised in cooperation with the Max Weber Stiftung, and situated at The Warburg Institute, London, as well as at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Kunsthistorisches Institut (Florence), and Warburg Haus (Hamburg). Each institution is represented by one of the five Professors who also direct the research project: Andreas Beyer (Basel/Paris) who is also functioning as the research centre’s speaker, Horst Bredekamp (Berlin), Uwe Fleckner (Hamburg), Bill Sherman (London), and Gerhard Wolf (Florence).


Every institution outside London houses two scientific collaborators who are working on their individual projects: one collaborator each in Berlin, Florence, Hamburg, and Paris and one in London. Thus the various partners send in total four collaborators to the Warburg Institute. Guaranteeing a continuous exchange with their home institutions, these delegates work together with their London colleagues: three scientific collaborators, an archivist, the research centre’s assistant, and the coordinator. Thus, the Warburg Institute stands at the centre of the Bilderfahrzeuge project.


The research project is not primarily committed to monographic Warburg research – though some of the scientific collaborators will focus on these items. Nevertheless, the research is closely related to Warburg and his circle in its findings and debates. These create the background for methodological and theoretical discussion. Warburg’s methods and approaches allow access to images in a highly sensitive way. Such sensitivity is fundamental since almost all aspects of modern life are influenced by images. This applies to the entertainment industry, performative forms of commodities, or the political sphere. Possibly with even more serious consequences, images have an impact on all areas of knowledge and research – not only the humanities but natural sciences too. At the dawn of this new age of media Warburg himself demonstrated the wide use of his methods. He examined the international press and war propaganda over the course of the First World War, using his experience in handling images. Here lie the possibilities in reconstructing and updating his research approach. That approach is closely linked to the school of ‘iconology’ through the intellectual figure Erwin Panofsky, maybe the most famous of Warburg’s students, and his concepts for examining images. This school of ‘iconology’ will function as the core of a new, genuinely transcultural and trans-epochal intellectual research method for examining the history of images.



Prof. Dr. Andreas Beyer
The Warburg Institue
Woburn Square
London WC1H 0AB


Dr. Steffen Haug
The Warburg Institute
Woburn Square
London WC1 0AB
Tel: +44 (0) 207 862 87 75


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