Research Areas

(led by all directors)

Steffen Haug
Warburg Institute, London.

Words to images – images to words. Aby Warburg’s art history and the politics of language.

Warburg’s language in his writings has often been noted as unique. It is closely connected to the methods he developed. Studying his specific use of words can help to better understand the formation of his ideas. This project aims to take a closer look at Warburg and language by focusing on three aspects: an analysis of his terminology, a contextualisation of his writings in the art history of his time and, lastly, the relation of his language to the political history of his epoch.

Matthew Vollgraff
Warburg Institute, London.

Memory and matter: the epigenesis of images in anthropology and art circa 1900

Warburg’s vision of cultural history was indelibly imprinted by the natural sciences of his day. Psychological theories of hereditary or “unconscious” memory in particular—with roots in earlier traditions of vital materialism and natural philosophy—suffuse his thinking about the migration and survival of images. The project aims to recover the overlooked ‘epigenetic’ dimension of Warburg’s Kulturwissenschaft by investigating the role of images in psychological and neurophysiological theories of memory, and conversely, the role of memory in the study of images.

(led by Gerhard Wolf)

Dipanwita Donde
Max Weber Stiftung India Branch Office, New Delhi

Migration of Images, Texts, Ideas and Objects from Timurid Central Asia to Mughal India, 16th– 18th centuries

The Mughal rule in India was characterised by an extraordinary artistic efflorescence in continuation of the literary and artistic shift that occurred at the court of the Timurid sultan, Husain Bayqara, in Herat in the 15th century. The project will focus on the dense traffic of images that migrated from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent.  Some of this movement was physical – moving through the vehicle of travelling objects and artists. Some of this movement was virtual, with artists of Hindustan trying to depict an imagined vision of the Timurid/Central Asian heritage that neither they, nor their Timurid-Mughal patrons had seen. The idea is to create a bank of Mughal images and texts within certain groups – portraits, vessels, environments and emotions, under which clusters of images can be classified and analysed from within Turko-Mongol cultural categories and practices. 

Anita Hosseini
Warburg Institute, London

Moving ideas, images and aesthetics. French and Persian interrelations in the late Safavid era

The Safavid era (16th– 18thcentury) is defined as a time of a multitude of political, territorial and religious changes, and furthermore it marks the beginning of lively interchanges between Europe and Persia, prompting an increase of cultural exchange in both directions. Tracing down the paths of the moving agents, moving ideas, and thus moving aesthetics, the project aims to examine the transcultural interchange between France/England and Persia by analysing both texts (travel reports) and images (applied and visual arts) which reveal the interweaving of Persian and European art and art theory. 

Sanja Savkic
Max Planck-Gesellschaft
c/o Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

The lives of things in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and early colonial New Spain

The project aims to explore the Americas’ past in terms of the migration of images, objects, commodities and texts, and with them the migration of ideas. The focus is placed on the cultural super-area dubbed Mesoamerica, especially when referring to its pre-Columbian history. The project covers a considerably long timeframe, from ca. 2000 BCE to the end of the 16th century CE, as this research favors a diachronic over a synchronic perspective. This study intends to advance the disciplinary intersection of knowledge and questions about the particularities of indigenous visual cultures, and the new realities that arose both in the New and Old Worlds since the Conquest.

Ning Yao
Max Planck-Gesellschaft
c/o Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Reconfiguring the incense burner

The project examines the creation, transmission and appropriation of incense burners caught up in cross-cultural encounters from 1100 to 1900. The geographical focus will be on China and regions such as Japan, Korea, Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire and Meissen in Germany. It advances new ways to think about the interactions between the concepts of politics, ritual, and thingness.

(led by Claudia Blümle, Horst Bredekamp and Uwe Fleckner)

Leena Crasemann
Warburg-Haus, Hamburg

Textile matters. Hybrid formations and new materialities of fabrics in contemporary art and architecture

The project will deal with textile tent dwellings, which can be accompanied by the formation of a camp and are perpetuated in the operating system of art and architecture. What are the iconological traditions, political implications and social functions of the tent as contemporary textile art object and architectural abode? And what place do these fabrics occupy in current discourses on the dominance of western/occidental interpretations over ‘other’ (art) histories, neither of which can be imagined without the referential framework of colonialism and postcolonialism?

Yannis Hadjinicolaou
Warburg-Haus, Hamburg

Kinetic material symbol: the political iconology of falconry 

The instruments of falconry, such as the lure, had a deep iconic impact and a long afterlife, illuminating the fact of physical as well as metaphorical movement as image vehiclein the “Warburgian” sense of the word. It will be shown how images and techniques may be brought into a direct association to each other and hence reveal the visual power of practicing falconry, its political iconology, as a pragmatic-material, as well as symbolic activity.

Mingyuan Hu
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Moving ‘Book of Changes’ and changing ideas of science

From antiquity on, 易經(I Ching / Book of Changes) moved in and out of diverse geopolitical, conceptual, and linguistic spaces. The project centres on six historical moments in its afterlife – in Enlightenment Europe, Tokugawa Japan, Victorian Britain, post-revolutionary China, interwar Germany, and post-war Euro-America. It examines the ways in which a work of divination / cosmology / philosophy interacted with specific notions of science responding to differing claims of universality, to shifting world orders, and to individual takes on structural change in times of external and internal reconfiguration.

Felix Jäger
Warburg Institute, London

Early modern armor and theengineering of political subjects

The project traces the prosthetic fashioning of the body from early modern armor to recent technologies of “post-human” enhancement. Rather than expressing cultural attitudes, such accessory objects craft embodied dispositions, which mobilise the wearer as a “vehicle” for power. The study argues for a rereading of armor as an apparatus of control that inspired philosophical thought, propelled disciplinary practices, and managed collective sensibilities. Such body politics thus spotlight the social and psychological issues also at stake in current wearable devices.

(Led by Andreas Beyer)

Alexandra Marraccini
Warburg Institute, London

Boundary objects: between natural and artificial in England, ca. 1550-1750

The project focuses on category formation in early modern England using its natural-historical collection books, and their related images and objects. It shall specifically focus on liminal objects—that is, those that fall between the artificial and the natural, such as carved ivory or antiquarian coins made from rare metals— to ask where and when the lines are drawn between categories of natural-ness, and how the definition of each category in early modernity specifically informs an English canon of natural-historical iconography and emerging national identity. 

Oliver O’Donnell
Warburg Institute, London

Portraits of empiricism

The project seeks to make an art-historical intervention in the history of philosophy by retelling the standard narrative about 18th and 19th century Anglo-American empiricism through images that emerged in close historical proximity to that story’s major figures and texts. The project leverages enduring works of high art by canonical British artists as well as ephemera of the visual culture of the time so as to create a new perspective on Anglophone thought, Anglophone visual culture, and the relation between them. It critically investigates the essentializing relation between Englishness and empiricism through images, and thereby reveals how images can help us understand the historical and analytic contours of Anglo-American empiricism in new light.

Judith Rottenburg
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Receptions of modern art from Europe in African contexts

This project is concerned with receptions, exhibitions and collections of early 20th century modern art from Europe on the African continent and examines the different meanings it acquires within the respective contexts. The project includes case studies on Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria and South Africa, as well as exhibition projects that span multiple contexts, such as travelling exhibitions organized by UNESCO. By analyzing the selected case studies by way of comparison, this project aims to put the journeys of modern art from Europe to African countries into a larger, joint context, and builds into a historiography of transcultural modernities in the 20th century.

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