Sei sulla pagina 1di 18

A. M.

Warburg
Author(s): G. Bing
Source: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 28 (1965), pp. 299-313
Published by: The Warburg Institute
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/750675
Accessed: 03-05-2015 23:28 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The Warburg Institute is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the Warburg and
Courtauld Institutes.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG
By G. Bing*
n setting down his recollections of Aby Warburg,1 a bare six months after
his death, and attempting to bring home to his countrymen the personality
of a scholar whose work he admired and who had been his friend for many
years, Giorgio Pasquali found himself in a curious situation. It seemed to
him strange that, while Warburg's name was familiar to scholarly circles,
next to nothing was known of the man himself and his work. '. .. qui da noi',
he wrote, 'molti anche tra gli universitari si saranno chiesti se quel nome era,
oltre che di un'istituzione, anche di un uomo. Che l'amburghese "biblioteca
Warburg per scienza della cultura" era piu celebre del suo fondatore e direttore . . . La biblioteca Warburg e gik ora la pi' completa tra le raccolte
specializzate di stampati e di materiale iconografico per chi voglia studiare in
genere storia della cultura, ma in particolare storia della cultura del Rinascimento nostro, fiorentino e italiano . .. Che l'uomo Warburg, il grande
ricercatore Warburg, scompaia, scomparisse gi? da vivo, dietro all'istituzione
da lui voluta, 6 conforme alle sue intenzioni: egli ha voluto essere innanzi tutto
un maestro e un organizzatore, ha voluto che certi suoi pensieri scientifici, non
molti forse di numero ma grandi e svolti organicamente, vivessero e fruttificassero sopratutto nelle menti dei suoi discepoli ch'egli fin da principio considerava collaboratori e destinava successori. Nd e caso che, mentr'egli si 6
per lo pid tenuto pago di pubblicare le sue scoperte maggiori in forma straordinariamente succinta e compressa, per lo pii quale resoconto o riassunto di
conferenze, le sue idee, ancora lui vivo, siano state eposte nella loro connessione organica dallo scolaro che gli era da molti anni pii vicino, Fritz Saxl.'
Pasquali's essay will always be among the finest and most perspicacious
tributes paid to Warburg. Certainly, his judgment of Warburg's intentions
may have been awry. No scholarly inquiry can ever pass for completed in
the eyes of the person who undertakes it, and Pasquali himself well understood
how to awaken in his pupils the consciousness that they were the heirs to an
inheritance, and that it was incumbent on them to make the fullest use of it.
Nevertheless, he had put his finger on a peculiarity of Warburg's fate, which
was already apparent then, and has since become more evident. Even his
posthumous fame comes more from hearsay than from a knowledge of his
* This article, prepared by the late Professor Bing to serve as an introduction to the
Italian edition of Warburg's Gesammelte
Schriften (forthcoming from La Nuova Italia,
Florence), is a considerably revised version of
a lecture given at the Courtauld Institute in
1962. The first nine paragraphs, added by
the author in German, have been translated:
otherwise the text is printed as she last saw it.
1 Giorgio Pasquali, 'Ricordo di Aby Warburg', Pegaso, ii, 1930o, pp. 484ff.; reprinted
in id., Vecchiee Nuove Pagine stravaganti di un
Filologo, Florence, 1952. Other personal appreciations: F. Saxl, 'Die Bibliothek Warburg
und ihr Ziel', Vortrdgeder Bibliothek Warburg

Leipzig, 1923, pp. Iff. Obituaries


1921-22,
by E. Panofsky (HamburgerFremdenblatt,1929)
and F. Saxl (Frankfurter Zeitung, I929).
A.
Giorgetti, 'Aby Warburg', Archivio Storico
Italiano, lxxxviii, I930, pp. 34Iff.; E. Wind,
'Warburgs Begriff der Kulturwissenschaft
und seine Bedeutung fir die Aesthetik', Zeitschrift fir Aesthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, 25. Beiheft, 1931, pp. 163ff.; W. Kaegi,
'Das Werk Aby Warburgs', Neue Schweizer
Rundschau, 1933, pp. 283ff.; C. G. Heise,
Persinliche Erinnerungenan Aby Warburg,Hamburg, 2nd ed., 1959; G. Bing, 'Aby M.
Warburg', Rivista Storica Italiana, lxxii, 1960,
pp. I ooff.

299

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

300

G. BING

writings, and he is one of those authors whose fortune it is, in Lessing's words,
to be more often praised than read.
Warburg had himself some experience of both recognition and neglect. In
his personality and his conversation there was an exceptional fascination, but
no-one in his lifetime would have predicted the fame which he now enjoys,
and only a few would have conceded him the right to it. In the years when
the history of art was developing into a recognized academic discipline,
Warburg must have felt that his preaching was falling on deaf ears. He
addressed himself to his task with the zeal of a pioneer, but he was well aware
that he had been able to do no more than 'erect milestones', and his confidence
that others would follow his lead was his only protection against doubt and
indifference. At the end of the First World War the sudden onset of his illness
condemned him to years of solitude. On his recovery, indeed, when Saxl's
activity had created for him a circle of willing scholarly collaborators, he
could feel himself fully understood by those around him, and he earned the
enthusiastic respect of a series of young pupils. But he was never to bring
home the harvest of those last five years of his life.
After his death, the conditions of the time helped to keep the figure of
Schriftenwere published at the
Warburg in a kind of twilight. His Gesammelte
which
times
end of 1932, in unpropitious
gravely hindered, if they did not
Less than a year later,
volumes.
of
these
circulation
the
entirely prevent,
the
in
events
of
Warburg Institute, the
under the pressure political
Germany,
had
he
the
work
of
extension
the
for
initiated, had been transferred
foundation
is
his
of
The
to England.
fortuna emphasized by the fact that it was
irony
which
this very emergency
helped to give his name greater currency, in that
to another country, and its incorporation in the
Institute
the
of
the migration
of
London, opened to Warburg's closest collaborators a new era
University
his friends and pupils acclimatized his approach in centres
while
of activity,
outside
of learning
England.
So it may seem that the republication of Warburg's works, in the country
with whose civilization they are first and foremost concerned, and in the
language in which he was almost as much at home as in his own, is no more
than a belated act of historical justice. Nor is such an act inappropriate at a
time when many publishers, not only in Italy, but also in Germany and
America, are seeking to repair the broken links with the last generation but
one by issuing reprints and translations. The scholarly classics of the turn of
the century have come into their own again.
Warburg's case, however, is a little more complex, since the lines of
research which appeal to his authority, some of them unconnected with the
Institute that bears his name, are so many and various. It is time to redefine
his achievement. This was formerly seen as accomplished in the field of
Renaissance studies, but now one hears the terms 'Warburg method' and
'Warburgian studies' uttered with a confidence which is not supported by firsthand knowledge of his work. This mere invocation of Warburg's name will
not suffice. True, it is not the first time that an author has been obscured by the
size of the legacy that he bequeathed to his heirs to be used and augmented.
But those who are not satisfied with judging his stature by the influence
he has exerted must, as he himself always advised, go back to the sources.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

301

These considerations governed the policy of this new edition. When Saxl
wrote his paper of 19222 it had been his aim to demonstrate the coherence
underlying Warburg's diverse and seemingly unconnected articles. In the
Gesammelte
these are grouped according to subjects and supplemented
Schrifften
and
notes based partly on Warburg's marginaliaand partly on
by appendices
the results of subsequent research. The intention was then to bring Warburg's
work up to date so that it should retain its topicality. Today, the situation
calls for a different approach. The emphasis must be on Warburg's own
development as a scholar. To document this clearly, his papers are here
printed in the order in which they were published. Some of the riassunti
mentioned by Pasquali have been omitted but one article of which only an
extract was published in 1932 is here printed in its entirety.3 Nothing has been
added to or corrected in Warburg's text, not even where his presentation and
conclusions have been superseded by later research. What happened to
Burckhardt's Ciceroneas it passed through various editions should serve as a
warning. Even readers who do not accept Burckhardt's opinions prefer to
have his text without a commentary. In the case of Warburg's writings, it
must be left to the reader to examine the details critically. What matters is
that he should be enabled to follow Warburg's explorations in their bold
self-consistency.
To do this we must rid ourselves of certain ideas which can partly be traced
to Warburg's own work. He has not made it easy for us to see him in his own
time. This does not apply only to his chosen field, the history of art. He,
more than any specialist, has drawn on general ideas current in his time and
we must look for the sources of his notions in many fields. Thus we tend to
accept his descriptive analyses of works of art without realizing that they
contain elements of aesthetic doctrines which we thought to have outgrown.
When we read his polemics against the autonomy of artistic developments
and the unconnected spontaneity of artistic creation, or against the overrating
of purely formal criteria for the understanding of works of art, he may seem
to us to be tilting at windmills, until we recall that it was he himself who
stopped their sails turning. Our own more sophisticated conception of the
influence of ancient art is grounded on his refutation of neo-classical dogma.
True, some of his attributions and derivations are in need of correction. But
we must guard against rejecting his arguments together with these erroneous
examples. He was wrong in ascribing Castagno'sjousting shield to Pollaiuolo,
and in deriving the David figure on it from the Pedagogue of the group of
the Niobides, which is much restored and was in any case not found until
1583. But what this illustration was meant to prove was the classical origin
of a seemingly unclassical gesture4-and this can in fact be documented from
the manuscript tradition, which can in turn be shown to have been known to

2 F. Saxl, 'Rinascimento
dell'Antichita',
Repertoriumfir Kunstwissenschaft, xliii, 1922,
pp. 220 ff. A. Warburg, Die Erneuerung der
heidnischen Antike: KulturwissenschaftlicheBeitrdge zur Geschichteder europdischenRenaissance.
Mit einem Anhang unverdffentlichterZusdtze,
Leipzig/Berlin,
1932. Here referred to as
GesammelteSchriften.

3 'Der Eintritt des antikisierenden Idealstils


in die Malerei der Fritihrenaissance', Vortrag
gehalten im Kunsthistorischen Institut in
Florenz am 20 April 1914; resume in Kunstchronik, xxxi, 1913/14, reprinted in Ges.
Schriften, i, pp. 173ff.
4 GesammelteSchriften, p. 625.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

302

G. BING

Florentine artists of the Quattrocento, as witness the Codex Escurialensis.


The difficulties that remain when we allow for these qualifications are
connected with the interpenetration in Warburg of description and interpretation. He uses an exceptionally condensed language which one feels is created
for the purpose and which enables him to make his general point of view
show through his formulations without divorcing it from the particular. It is
precisely the clinical precision with which he conducts his demonstration on
the object that tends to draw attention to itself so that less notice has been
taken of the assumptions with which he approaches his material. He felt that
it should be possible to demonstrate in specific historical instances how the
forms created by man express his inward and outward experience. In what
follows, brief reference will be made to some of the questions which Warburg
encountered, in particular the role of the coining of images as a process of
civilization and the changing relations between the images of art and of
language. All the other elements in his inquiries which are now thought to
be characteristic, his interest in iconography, his focus on the Nachleben der
Antike, are much more means to an end than ends in themselves.
If his method of work strikes us as uneconomical, this is due to his effort
to approach his subject from two angles. His published writings stand in no
relation to the bulk of materials which he passed in review, the number of
documents of which he took notice, the range of subjects into which he made
inroads. All over his writings there are traces of wreckage: projects not carried
out, promises of articles never written, and ideas which were never developed.
Even in his finished articles, the variety of theme is perplexing: Botticelli's
mythologies, Burgundian tapestries, Memling's portraits, Florentine engravings, German calendars, the business correspondence between the Medici and
their agents abroad, controversies between Reformers and Counter-reformers,
Italian grand opera, court festivals and quack medicines which were sold at
fairs-the spread of scholarly curiosity is so wide as to obscure the red thread
of a leading interest. That many of his published articles are nothing but
summaries of occasional lectures looks like a counsel of despair, a compromise
between the wish to make his findings known and the reluctance to put them
down too hastily before the framework had had time to set in his mind. The
only achievement which, within the limits of time and means, embodies the
fullness of Warburg's aspirations is his library. In almost seventy years, it has
been expanded and in parts adapted to cover modern trends of scholarship.
But its organization still follows Warburg's researches. The groundplan which
he designed has served as a blueprint to those who followed in his footsteps
and whose own work has gone into the fabric as it now stands. One is drawn
to the conclusion that Warburg's work has become so consequential because
it was left as a fragment, with the fragment's power of testifying to a larger
edifice and of challenging the imagination to supplement its details.
The circumstances of Warburg's life do not account for his having left so
much unfinished. On the face of it, it had the quiet tenor of a private scholar's
existence. Born in 1866, he belonged to a decade in which a surprising number
of famous art historians were born.5 Surprising, because at that time it must
5Emile Male 1862, Karl Giehlow and 1864, Bernard Berenson 1865, Julius von
Adolph Goldschmidt 1863, Heinrich Wo61fflin Schlosser 1866, Max I. Friedlander and

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

303

have needed considerable strength of purpose to become an art historian.


Warburg was the eldest son of a long-established family of bankers in Hamburg and might reasonably have been expected to join the firm. The study
of the history of art, in particular, was suspect to his family and certainly not
encouraged by the solidly commercial interests of his native city. Nor was
his training in that discipline altogether plain sailing. Warburg had gone to
Bonn to study under Carl Justi, a competent theologian as well as the author
of famous books on Winckelmann, Michelangelo and Velizquez.6 But he
seems not to have been fond of teaching and once, when he was unwilling to
lecture to an audience of three, Warburg and his two companions had to
assert their rights by reminding him of the old rule that tresfaciunt collegium.
In the end, when Warburg proposed Botticelli's mythological paintings as
the subject of his thesis, Justi expressed doubts of its relevance and Warburg
had to strike camp. He had better luck at Strassburg with Hubert Janitschek,7
who gladly accepted Warburg's thesis. It ultimately appeared with a dedication to Janitschek and to Warburg's other Strassburg teacher, the archaeologist
Adolf Michaelis8 who deserves to be mentioned here because of his interest
in the transmission of classical marbles down the ages. In the years following
his university training the graph of Warburg's life shows some odd deflections.
The first was an abortive attempt to study medicine. In this way he may
have been yielding to a misplaced hope; what he was looking for was a key
not so much to the workings of the body as to those of the mind. The second
interlude was a journey to the United States in the course of which he visited
Pueblo Indian settlements in New Mexico. The effect of this experience on
Warburg's scholarly development has been dealt with in a lecture by Saxl.9
After his return to Europe, Warburg, with his young family, settled down in
Florence, to a life of intense work in the Archives. That he left it in order to
return to Hamburg, where there were no great works of art and not much
documentary material to interest him, seems to have been a matter of selfdiscipline. He had become so much engulfed in the wealth of primary evidence which Florence offers at every step that he had to take refuge from it
as from an overwhelming flood. The rest of his life was spent at Hamburg
within a deliberately narrowed-down sphere of concerns. He refused several
offers of chairs and never accepted public office. He kept in touch by correspondence with a widening international circle of scholars, but when the
International Congress of the History of Art of which he had been one of the
main promoters met at Rome in 1912 he left it to another man to act as
chairman of the German delegation. In Hamburg he enjoyed the respect due
to his competence in artistic and educational matters and benefited from his
Campbell Dodgson 1867, Wilhelm V6ge 1868
-see E. Panofsky, Introd. to W. V6ge, Bildhauerdes Mittelalters,Berlin, 1958.
6 Carl Justi, 1832-1912, Marburg and
Bonn: Winckelmann,
sein Leben,sein Werkund
seine Zeitgenossen,I866-72; Velasquezund sein
Jahrhundert,I888; Michelangelo,Beitrdgezur
Erkldrungder Werkeunddes Menschen,19oo00.
SHubert Janitschek, 1846-1893, Prague,
Strassburg and Leipzig: Die Gesellschaftder

Renaissancein Italien und die Kunst, I879; Geschichteder deutschenMalerei, 1890; Kunstlehre
DantesundGiotto'sKunst, 1892.
8 Adolf Michaelis, 1835-1910I, Greifswald,
Titbingen and Strassburg: Der Parthenon,
I871; Catalogueof Ancient Marbles in Great
Britain, 1882; Die archaeologischen
Entdeckungen
des 19. Jahrhunderts,1906.
9 'Warburg'svisit to New Mexico', F. Saxl,
Lectures,1957, pp. 325ff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

304

G. BING

independence to make himself an advocate of the public-always hot on the


trail of official blunders and bridling at every sign of administrative highhandedness. But apart from his researches, his main occupation was the
building up of his library. Considering he did it single-handed for more than
twenty years, from the untiring reading of trade lists and second-hand booksellers' catalogues to the allotting of its place on the shelves to every book or
offprint, this was no mean job.
This tranquil setting covered an approaching tragedy. It seems likely that
all his life Warburg had been aware of a threat to his mental balance. He
moved like a man in a dark and dangerous place, his penetration sharpened
by an unusual sensitivity to physical and moral dangers. His diaries of the
war years 1914-i18 show that, from beginning to end, he was deeply critical of
Germany's conduct of the war and uncompromising in his judgment of the
consequences brought upon her by her disregard of international law. His
illness broke out at the end of the war and kept him confined to an asylum
for six years.
It has been told elsewhere how Saxl saved the library from dispersalduring
Warburg's absence and turned it into the nucleus of a research institute.10
Warburg returned home to a radically changed stage. With people round
him anxious to understand and assist him, he found the courage to envisage
a gathering-in of his life's work. He planned a pictorial atlas setting out
the history of visual expression in the Mediterranean area, with the title
Mnemosyne,the name which he had also chosen as a motto for his library.
This work, again, exists only in outline. But Warburg's own assessment of his
final years is symbolized by the last entry in his diary. There was an appletree in the garden of his home which seemed dead and would have been
removed but for Warburg's protest. In 1929, the year of Warburg's death,
at the end of October, this old tree had suddenly and unaccountably begun
to flower, and the last words in Warburg's handwriting, found the morning
after his death, were concerned with it. They were: 'Who will sing me the
paean, the song of thanksgiving, in praise of the fruit-tree which flowers so
late?'
In view of this tale of frustration one is bound to ask what gave his work
its unexpected power of expansion. It remains a fragment if we consider his
grasp as measured by his reach. But the aspect which it now presents suggests
another image: that of a mine, a central shaft sunk by Warburg from which
galleries branch off at various levels right and left, each exploiting a different
vein of the same substance. We have to turn to the original shaft to discover
the spots which have proved so profitable for tapping.
When Warburg began to work, Florentine art still exercised the attraction
which it had held for Pre-Raphaelite taste. The paintings of Botticelli and
his contemporariesstill had to be cleared of the supposition of their unsophisticated spring charm. Warburg was equipped with the great corrective which
is Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Italian Renaissance. This is not to say
that he accepted all Burckhardt's conceptions. He did not follow him in his
10

G. Bing, 'Fritz Saxl, 1890-1948', Introd. from his Friendsin England,Edinburgh, 1957,
to Fritz Saxl: A Volume of Memorial Essays pp. Iff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

305

presentationof the State as a Work of Art and in the courseof time he was
to modifyprofoundlyBurckhardt'sview of the Developmentof the Individual.
But certain themes to which Burckhardthad drawn attentionbecame Warburg's fields of exploration: Italian festivals,Florentinerelationswith Burgundy, and, of course, the rediscoveryof ClassicalAntiquity. Above all,
Burckhardt'ssober method of gatheringsingle facts from all types of sources
for his pictureof the Italian RenaissanceremainedWarburg'smodel. A trace
of this influence can be seen in Warburg'sadoption of one of Burckhardt's
leading terms: Life. As a descriptiveterm for an object it is ill-definedand
neither of the two men explains what he understoodby it. Its value to
them was that it circumscribedthe historian'stask. It was a reminderthat in
dealing with the past the historianis faced with a reality as burningand as
bewilderingto those who lived throughit as our own is to us. No sphereof
existence must be consideredtoo lowly, too obscure or too ephemeral to
provideevidence. The dead relics which are all there is to go upon must be
read as the remainsof human reactions-reactions, that is, of living men and
women to that changing and evanescentreality. This intimate approachis
part of the charm of Warburg'spresentation. It is also the parting of the
ways betweenhim and the practitionersof the History of Ideas and Geistesgeschichte.Warburgknew that ideas are not born and do not procreateby
parthenogenesis.
It shows a one-sidedjudgment of Warburg'sachievementwhen his first
publishedwork is said to contain in nucemost of his later discoveries. There
is in it much of the beginner'sstumblingthroughan insufficientlycontrolled
mass of evidence." What is true, however,is that throughWarburg'sown
later elaborationsit was to become one of his most influentialstatements. It
startsfrom what then seemed to be an unresolveddiscordbetween the true
characterof mythologicalfiguresand the exaggeratedlinear treatmentgiven
them by Botticelli (P1. 44a) and his contemporaries.Far from being consideredinappropriate,this style was in fact the fifteenthcentury'sanswerto
the attemptto find a genuinelyclassicalform. Nor was this solutionconfined
to the visual arts. The runningor dancing figureswith flutteringgarments
and blowing hair, called Ninfe,which appearedin pictures,were also abundantly describedin contemporarypoems and used as stage properties on
the carriof festivalprocessions.They even made their appearancein Biblical
scenes where they could not be necessaryto the action (P1. 44b). It had
thereforeto be assumed that they served a purely stylistic purpose. This,
accordingto Warburg,was the endeavourto renderbodily motion through
the agitatedlines of thin drapery,as the Ancientshad shown to be possible
(P1.44c). That we, with our more differentiatedknowledgeof classicalart,
now call the style of the model 'late' or even 'decadent'does not alter the fact
that in the fifteenthcenturyit rankedas 'classical'. Thus a clean breakwas
made with the accepted notion of classical calm. The dogma to which
Winckelmann had given currency was deprived of its validity and the question
of what was understood by 'classicism' had to be asked afresh in respect of
any given period.
11

GesammelteSchriften, pp. I ff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

G. BING

306

Another and possibly more far-reaching conclusion is implicit in Warburg's


argument. He had placed under observation a single figure as a complete
unit of body, posture and drapery, without deducting or abstracting from it
any of its stylistic properties. Looked at in isolation from all the contexts in
which it occurred, it had turned out to be common to both the literary and
the artistic medium. This parallelism is not due to any alleged Spirit of the
Age, but meant that the figure belonged to a category of expressive devices of
which both literature and the visual arts can make use. In rhetoric, a conventionalized form currently employed to bring home a meaning or convey
a mood, is called a topos. What Warburg had established, therefore, was the
existence of its counterpart in the fine arts. Like many linguistic topoi, the
Ninfa had the distinction of being recommended by the Ancients. When
Warburg assumed that it was used to enhance the sense of movement, he may
have defined its purpose too narrowly. But his interpretation had the merit of
being true to the medium which he had set out to investigate. It remains
within the limits of our visual conceptions. Movement is one of the qualities
of the external world apprehended by the eye and artists had time and again
found themselves faced with the difficulty of making it visible. By representing
such a convention as a new means for poets and painters to portray more
emphatically the appearance of real life, Warburg took his first decisive step
away from the naturalistic interpretation of artistic forms.
Though not apparent at first sight, this is one of the points at which
Warburg also arrived in his discussion of Ghirlandajo's portraits in the Sassetti
Chapel in Sta Triniti (P1. 44d). Except for Lorenzo's portrait, which is
mentioned by Vasari, they had up till then remained unidentified. Warburg
recognized Lorenzo's children and certain members of his household12 and
amplified his description with letters and reports bearing upon their relations
with one another and with Lorenzo. From this combination emerged a lively
picture of the circle nearest to Lorenzo's private life, and it would seem that
the portraits, together with the realistic little view of Piazza Signoria in the
background, could safely be taken as a period piece reflecting the contemporary scene. Had this been Warburg's only aim, he would have followed
the procedure of eighteenth-century antiquarians whose great merit it was to
have interpreted costumes, tools, domestic equipment in terms of habits of
living. It is in this sense that anthropologists still speak of the material culture
of peoples or tribes. For the historian there is much to be gained from this
method, as long as he is lucky enough to have the objects themselves to deal
with. In drawing upon their representations in works of art, however, it is
often forgotten that their value as evidence is modified by their being translated into a remoter sphere of reality. Warburg's use of antiquarian methods
is one of the features by which he dissociated himself from the formalistic
distinction, widely made at his time, between monumental and applied arts.
But his interpretation was based on a more involved course of reasoning than
that of the antiquarians. Decorations were, for him, neither a means to convey
an abstract significance nor the result of man's incorrigible urge to cover
empty surfaces. The ornaments of tournament banners, tapestried bed hangings or marriage chests are inseparable from the functional character of such
12Ibid., pp. Ioff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

--X;.,
1.
-.!,-,
-1
,,.....,,p,. ?*_K
.1
,,- ,- - .?-II..,
I: , I:; 11. ? .:,.1 -1 1]:?
1-1
1.1.I'll.
W.
:- mk
??_.
,?i??
.,,,.",
,.,
?_
?..,.....,,
...
m
-.,_..--,.-,-,,,-_
?-,_,_,---,_,_
"?
,. ?i
-.''
*1
I_
.
.,......
I ...,..,..,...... I ?::::4.---,,.
-IIs
..,
, ;*,.T
.
,
?
..
I
I
..?
.m
I
?11
??
I
...
I-" i ,.- , ?!"
.1
.%.
?:?:
, 1 I-.
?,
.
1,
.-:, 1.11
??
.
I'll,
,f
%
...
.1
,
;...
.,',
,.?,"I
:
",
I
.
...
_e.
:
."
.
1
.:..::':.
..:.
..??
?m
?
,,,,
.:.,z.
,
?
:W
.
I
.
1
?
..,
I
.......
I
.
,
...
:
.."
.
,
?:_
,
.
?..,
,.,,?....
..?.!,
?
,
N
7
1
Ix
.,,I,
.",
I
.
..
......
.
?,?
.
,
,.;.
..
.....
...
.
.1
?
.
.
..'..
?
1
.
.
:
:
1?
,
1:
:?
':
.,
,
:.:::
.:,
...
?
.;k
..
:.?,.::?
,"
:?,:?
?
I
?4
?
1.
.:?,,::
::1
,,-?.:?
'
.
I
..........
-,:
....
?.
:::?.::
I
,?
.
.,
-,?
?
"
.::#
:1.:?,?
......
.1
"
?
..?Z.
'....
I
.
....".
..
.......
?.,
?
I
.1
I
"
?]:?,
-?
1.
?
?
l-,..I
?
,?
-,
,
,
..
,::
.
,.,.*
.
::::
?
..
:
"m
.
:,?
,...11?1,
......
_. -g. ....
.?.
?:,.?....
:.?
.I
?...._
,i .:...
, ,?1. ..........
,.. .1I;*&
.?;?
,.,..._,-.,..
. .??:;?;,,
W
I?,??",
?
.P.
!,
.I.,
II?I?
??.?i:::
.,,.. ..
!? ::..
".
-,.. ?R
., ,?
I..
...
.....::
I,??
.......1.IN
?. 1:
-.,-?i?l
.,.
,.I. ..?:??ii,
???
.I .., ,.....
?:
R
o..
_:,
,
I
?%
..
i,._1
.,.. . ;.?,.
.1
.
,.,???,
.,?
?
I
AM
im
?:?i,
.
A
.W
,
:??i?.??:.,n?
...
?
I
Jll
:.::::..,
%
.
,?-.
:
_
??
......
I
_
I..
.
.
_
I
I
.
?
?
?...
?
??iiF?:?,
..:?::_.:?
;,,
,>.?.i
?..,
.?
?,
?
,
I
I
',
A
,*
??
....
??
I
,
?o-?i?:??i
.1
?&-??l
.
,
..
?.,_,..
?
.
_,,
If,
.?
-.0'.
140
F
?
,
:
,
..
..
?.
??
,
,
?,..z
.
:-a
.41.0
I
I
,?
.
.
.
dilm
,
.4-.?
. I::::
- ,-15?
,
f.-X
?,&..
M
.o
11
I~ ---11-11.1-xft-N
?rl
;??.?
- ,.Ie,,I,?
i:],?3?,,..,,,
??,?,b
..- --,",
-I1,I-%
5?.,?
- -11,
1,
:,
:?z.:?qm
-.,.?.
.-?.&_
?,?1;
::?:*?.,NM?..
?.
-..-,i?:]
"
...
..1
.?
- , : I_?,_
i?
I IN
...
;?:.
, I:A.:%::U
.,..
IA-f,.
??:::::
.: ,-.,II11 I I I...
1,,
.::
..-..?
71
.
?g , I'll
.
-ia
:?
-..
,?,
...
??I
t?-?,
_?_?
- ,?.?-.?,?
_?
I...
,??,-_
01
I~-_-?.
'.
.
,I,:.
,
z ..IS
?,,
I ,"1?
..%?:.
....r..,._
.11
, .1
_?
,..i
I
,
.
?
....
,,.*,
'-.;
,
_
....
90?
.I,_
.
U.
"
,
K,
1;
??
,
-?
5,1
;?,,-.::
:
??:?,?]-;:?..??.
K.
...
I
-??v
.1
I
?.,,
...
.;
:
?_...._
/:
I..
?.
Nf?
g
??
,___?,__
2
'-.r,,-W.?
?
'?
;?
's
p.?,
i
?
"
_,.
.
%,:..
"g.,
I- I ,zl:?.
-.--",.:
..
?
I
_?
i?s.
,
e -...
:
I
I
,??,
V
..
...
?
i:::: 11
?..
10'.....
:
..-A,,?
?w
"I
_
1.
,
I
I
,
I
I
li?
.
I
,
,
..?
.
W
,
_?,W
w?.s:,
I
I
"
....
.,?.,?...?....?.????.,,,.,?;?:..
.,
i?...?;
.
?
., ,
-,:,'
.?
?2?i??;.M
..,lzl.:l,0-,M
,,?N
.I.M.
. , -?. .* : : ,?ij??i,
-- - ,- ? -? ? - - . ?.
:iI.... , -:*??,:,
I ,1-I. 1 .1 , ..;I ? ., I -, .1.
I X..X. ?. "-I :. - ` . , . , . 1 ?,.I. , . I I
- ?.
?;

.1

.? i

:?,

? I I ?, .: 1, 1, '.

.1
"I

I..
,?;

?...

,.

-,

al

:-!

:,?l

!,:?

.1 X_
.....
:,-.,....l..

? :. : .,_

k:.

'O,

M ,?*

-%

"

.:"

,. ? .i .:,?

.? ?.

.l

"',

-,

?-,

?,

,-?.

.,?-

,/'

1. .

I I.

..?
::C
:." ?

,-

li,.?: i?w

U
h

"'.

,.

&
, ?, W
1:1_
? ?f .k.
--,- ,,%IeO
.IV ,
??::?:?:??,
..,

-,

i?-

g,?

:0

.-,

ml

,"

., I .I i.p .

. .

I 1.
...
:.:::
:::.?.
-...
IM
...
?.11--...
.
.....

-_,"
:_, :':,._?
?i?...
,,.",i?,?.
.1?.:?N',I-0:
k?:
??
,?i:?,?:j?
.11
-??,:
- .
, .--.,.?"
.-4
,-iq
-?"--.,,
?,_4?.1?
_...
?.:,?
?.

1,

?:I ? I
I
II "-....1.
:,
I
.
?
?
::.
:....::
?
......
I
..
..
. .........I.,
-,
N..
-..,!?.
.....
.,.,.,q.
.. .... ...
:??!::
.. ?,,,
..
.1
,dX:iIl
.:.I.,
:,
,.,?
...?:::.
.....
WI..
?::?.j::::?!.-?:
:??
".:I

?,

,.

?,

.,-

Y.'

;:

;N.

:io.

4:?.

.: ,

W.

.;

?a_

.,

'.

?:

,?

,;?

?,%

,&

",

_:.,

?,

.,

:.,l

,.?i

?;:

.,y .?

., .-%-,w-z?.-?

? "?- .1 ., I 1? ., I I .
?:. - I I , I
I*

?.

?l

.x

:.

?- ? .% . - ..- , I -? ?, . I ." _ ,- ? 1 -, I ?r ?II .1 I . I"


1

?.

-m

., ,:?,.?:.? ?

:,Y-

"

1,

IN

%,?*

.,-

1.

,j

1?

.:,

".rf
?,
`
,_4
,w
%::::,
14
?xi? *:,.:,I:?
?; I - IIIIV
1, I I..:?,
??
,II? I -,:,,,.l:.
,.?9"'.;
.??11.., ..?.:....
??
..-I .
,,;?
.11
I,.,,/,
?_.
,(t "I -1.. lxlf!i??.
, ??
7?,,_,",
V
?Il?
..
? ,
1".
I I...
1,:?? ,?
.,...,.0.
.I"
...".....
,...::.77
??
I
"
.I
....:,,
,
?
.
A
!??
il.
I
:
1;
,.11
?,?
I
I...
1.
..
I
?_.
-.
-,
:..,I.?_.:XoN,
I
- I A?-P I?..
?I :%,
'::?,,?:.
m
1-1
A..?,
......
,S ?]:;..zr
.11
I 11
..,??
.1
1.
...I1.
I. .11.
?;
?;:::?:,;,k
?1,
I..
I?-.h..?,,,
.,. -?`?!
, ?,.:
.1.
I%`
I
I
I
:.rt,
1,
1,,11
11
?
,?,?:
I
a
".
.
11
-g
?
I
?
?
...
?
!i
".
I
.....
V,
9
I
?;".,?
::?I
.....
.i?ii??Zii??i?:_%:....:
-, .N
, -_?
?;:??
I,:?f?..
,,;M;
...
?.?i?,?
.....j::,
,j:...
,?.......:i:?
...?,.
?P.
-,?
?.W
?.,
.-....
...
?i. I
1.I , ... ,- ........
K
........
?:.
10
-I-Iffl
_....,.....
K.I
II~
. .V
. ..:?,
?:.
....
...P..-,-1
,540
......
...?-%
NI1,
:??-rx-?.`?.?, :

.3

:. -

!:,

,:

-,

"

_W,

/.

.? ,4 I ? ., ? - ? - I. ., . . . .. - . -_7 -" - ,, . I1,," , ".:- % . * I. . I


I? .? ". -, . -. _. . .
;

.?

0:1!?! 4,

* F

.i? :!? :? ;.:

:.?

:-

,?

?.

.:

?:

.? :.,?:.

?: . ,

F
.1

I.

,?

li?-g

W:

-,

-?,: I

,.

?;

I, I.

;v

.1?.:?

Ie

'.

71,

iO

,1 t

?_

,.

&

?.,

0K.

? -!,.

,-%:. ,'.: .

I.-, ?.,

!. :.4.A.:*., .,

:X

?.-g`?

:,. K,.

I .

.-

?l

?, a?.:l

.s& :? :ilk

?,

.?:

i -.
?X:
a

.*

.V

:.,

"

,_ 1

?,-. ,

'RE.'m ?

.'Nl

i i

rl.

.b

,.'

_?

'

!:.

,.

,:? ,

,?l

,1.

I ,I

, , -1 . ?
._

z?,-. ?- ?

"

t? ,

.?,

?,g%?i,

il - lw

&,

.'?:,

,?

I,

I?.Wn,

l i
?i:

:?iml?i ?,

:,

',.:

:?

?RN

i?

`?.

.:

,.l

?,-

-,:

-.,

?.,

,l_,. l-_l-,m,

".

.,

%:

?,

,.

,_ .? -,
.?
:

I,.:

ft

:;%

. : :..:
...: ? I
.0i:,?
???i:
,?... .1 .1,1W
I
...,
. . ?.
??:
P
.:??.,..:??,?
,T
'i?
: ,I?,:?
.:...
?,??
.:.11.
..,..:
??
??.
?:?
?::
.,,:
.. .?.
.11,11,,?i
_.??,?I \ ..,-,I ,l, ?...??:
* , ?,?
*m:?.
.,
.
:
?
.
:
?::?,l
,
I....
'.
,
.
R,
--%,::
.r
11,
.
..
.
?.*..
.., .. .,.. ,?
,.....
?:?;
-?v:?:
1?.,?..
...;::. ,, .....,
- I??.,
:%.
4.
,
-..,
1.
,..-,..
I,.- ....
.1. .05?::
.0..,._le,5
. .,,?,.
,. l:
.?.
??
I?...?.
..?.
...._,,,
1?. ,.
??i....
_.,,__
"?. "I
.,-I'.-.\K',
.:t?
:?
. A
.?. .??:?n?
.,.
,"...:....
...1 , :?.
??_.-i?i
"
..K.
?I..K?.?_
."
.,
_.
.
..'S,?"S
.-_
?
?
?
-?.,..,?P
...
:,?,,
,?
.*?V
a
A
i.
?
I
I
"
.
'. , k II,;
II-.A, ?;
t
_i
e..,
I.1?2,1
N,
_, x?_?.,a.:i?::
,..... 11
-11
,.-,....
...
1
,
.1 -Am- ??11,,!?i_--l
,
.??,.,".I...:..
.1, ?

,?

m 11
al.

$.

, - ,.
. ?,
.m

,.

.1 ,

?::;:,%
?-__,I,.`-?.?
.....
I
7i??:i.,;.?

,-?I

.?

..

.-I. . . -

?w

-.

,.

.?

"',

,'i

, ,

:,

., .:

?;

_m*
i.,

;: ?.

,.*? _,?

.-,

. .?

?k,

',

I.

.?

,:1 _?.:

.2, Z,

,?.

1.6

,.

I-,

I.?,;: ",.. ?,,.:. ..


I.I.::
.?im Rm--.??.
,.i!.4
?.
.,.
,....
:::
..i
?...:%.
,X,?.:;
$? ...:.:,:?
::::?
?-,
.a...,
- ?!,-?1 1.........
%
,
..
.
.1
?..
...''
?M?
I
?
?
, ,.? .. ,::..,V.:::
,"-_
?
..
,
,A
,".?,
??::.
.
..,
I
.?
.
..
1.
.1
1.
I .?m:...
?
.
:1 I .e.
...
?:
I
k
,l
....
?.,..
P
I .: :--I..-?:..?,,
......
,?.,..:.:.:%:
.. ?lo. ....
:..,?..
a.
_.%
",
IIII
...
;,;. .
.1
%,
...
.I . ..,.,??....
.I1%,
, ...
.......
X.`.
_?.
. . ..., - I?
I
??
11 .:11
,..,.?.;
.. .....
.....
.
11 iii.
-]?..
.,

,.?

I!,`5-1'?,k

: :,*

K?
.:

". . :. -i I"-? , , .I?.,I,-_W.- ? , :. :-. .:I. . . .


. ?. I
7I

.x?:p,i`-,.?i%,

,.

-Q

`-? _

%:. ?,l.1i.

, .1? ,.: ?:
.

,?

>.

? , .- . :

.-?:;]

/., !'

:_.,

,_ .Z_.65?,.

S."l

1.

?il

1',-A

i? :

i?. :?i_

-1 U I ?

-.,

2-INEIR

-:y " .l

.i

,.

- .?,

,"

?, .-?

-?:, ?,-

I..
_,
-_..?:_,._?:?ij:
.I ?I.
.,?,
.:-:::,
-,??

IT

. -. : .?, . : -. I .* ?., - ?.?-11 ,?I - .I'." ,,I I 1I? .- 1. .1 -, ?-.,% 1-;.T ,,m. . cM . - ?. ? ..- I . I- 1._ ,I I.-1I, -,. ,.I1 .*-,
:

.1

?.1.- ...
1

1,

.?

1.
I
?,.
II .
??
:
"::::n?:
.:..:
.
.
::?.
. xx:-::??,,
?,
I?;
"I
- ,..?ft ,. ...
..x
......
:j?::f
,,
:
.?
?"

.,

K:.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

"I

45
Rum

....

qwI

4W

a-Pisanello, Bacchantes. Oxford, Ashmolean


Mus. (pp. 3o9f.)

Photo: B6hm

b-Lamentation
of the Magdalen. Titian,
Entombment. Venice, Accademia (detail)
(P. 310)

Photo: Alinari

c-March.

d-Lament
for Adonis. Mantua, Palazzo
Ducale, Sarcophagus (detail) (p. 310o)
This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC

Ferrara, Palazzo Schifanoia (p. 311)

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

307

objects as tools of daily life and must therefore necessarily give some indication
of the particular occasions and the personal intentions which they had served.
This is a test which, in Warburg's opinion, must also be applicable to monumental art. If the portraits in Sta Trinith could have been classed as donors'
portraits it would have been simple. But the fact that the sitters had themselves represented standing and moving about in the confident height of their
full stature called for a more particular explanation. Such an explanation
was suggested by the life-size votive figures of wax which contemporary custom
allowed to be hung up in the churches.13 Their extreme truth to life, down
to the real clothes in which they were draped, allowed the grateful recipients
of some divine favour to feel that they were approaching the source of grace
in person. The same feeling impelled Lorenzo and his companions to have
their likenesses painted in the margin of a sacred scene. But instead of obtruding their crude effigies in the round they observed a more discreet distance:
they approached the holy persons only through the medium of painted
semblances.
The run of this argument bears some resemblance to Warburg's treatment
of the Ninfa. It meant that Ghirlandajo's naturalistic style, as well as Botticelli's classicism, had to be assessed on its own terms. As soon as an artistic
manifestation is considered in the light of its individual setting, criteria of
style lose their fixed meaning. In both cases Warburg arrived at this conclusion by trying to delimit the area open to visual representation. As a
measure of visible qualities his 'greater or lesser distance' of the portraits is as
good a term as the 'movement' of the Ninfa. This is not the place to go fully
into the sources of Warburg's frame of reference. Only two names may be
mentioned. One is Gottfried Semper, a towering figure in the art theory of
the late nineteenth century, who had analysed ornament in terms of its power
to convey movement. The second is Adolf von Hildebrand, like Warburg a
devotee of Florence, who had written on the stylistic effects resulting from a
widening or lessening of the imaginary space between a work of art and the
spectator.14

This last point was further elaborated by Warburg on the theme of


Flemish portraiture. The preference of Florentine merchants for having their
portraits painted by Flemish masters, which had been noticed by Burckhardt
and others, was part of a widespread taste for Flemish art, which also led to
the commissioning of vast lengths of Flemish tapestries and the collecting of
Flemish panel paintings in private houses. When Warburg describes the trade
in such objects through the agency of Medici representatives engaged in their
banking business, adding unpublished letters from these exiles in Bruges and
Brussels to the principals at home, he again seems to have nothing in mind
but to penetrate as closely as possible into the realities of life. Once again,
this setting is only the jumping-off ground for art historical conclusions. They
refer to the artistic significance of another of the concepts with which we bring
order into our impressions of the visible word: space. Warburg's concern with

Ibid., p. 99.
I86I-63. Adolf von Hildebrand, I847-1921 ;
14Gottfried
Semper, I803-79; architect, sculptor: Das Problem der Form in der bildenden
chief works in Dresden, Ziurichand Vienna: Kunst, 1893, etc.
Der Stil in dentechnischen
undtektonischen
Kiinsten,
13

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

G. BING

308

it has nothing to do with the modern preoccupation with the aesthetics of


three-dimensional representation. It is, on the contrary, part of his attempt
to understand differences of style as responses to psychological requirements.
His argument is based on the contrast between the close-up view in Flemish
pictures and the Florentine art of the altarpiece, which needs to be viewed
from a distance. In dwelling on the Flemish mastery in reproducing the
heaviness of precious dress materials,15 Warburg makes the rather endearing
remark that it was likely to be appreciated by Florentine patrons who were
themselves yarn dyers and silk manufacturers. But his real point is that
heaviness is a quality which in reality can only be perceived at close approach
by the sense of touch. Its pictorial illusion acts upon the spectator as if he
were himself drawn into the picture-much like the effect of a reflection in a
mirror where the viewer always finds himself in the same space with the
image. It satisfies his sense of his own identity while making him feel that
he is also part of his proper surroundings.
Finding that the impact of the Burgundian fashion on Florentine art was
most extensively documented in the graphic arts, Warburg next submitted
these to his usual realistic scrutiny. Prints were cheap; unlike panel paintings
they existed in more than one copy; they were easy to transport and, while
being self-contained as pictures, they were 'tools' in that they could be pasted
on containers of various kinds as meaningful decorations. Like feuilles volantes,
these mobile sheets carried the latest news in imagery from place to place,
and Warburg was one of the first to notice that here for once Italy was on
the receiving end of the line.16
We may doubt if he was right in identifying the figure of a youth in an
elaborate Burgundian livrea in one of these prints with Lorenzo.17 We have
become sceptical of the fashion of his day to detect topical allusions practically
everywhere in works of art and no longer rely quite as firmly on emblems
and motti which are apt, after all, to be transferred from one person to
another. But with that limitation Warburg's reasoning remains valid. Since
we have reason to suppose that on occasion clothes of this type were really
worn, the print might have been regarded as another case for a simple translation of visual data into terms of contemporary life. But this temptation is
effectively foiled by the Ninfa appearing on an equal footing with the Burgundian swell. Warburg's second example, which has since become a stockin-trade, shows the same coincidence of the two types of costume which is a
well-known feature of much popular Florentine Quattrocento art. The
dancing girl on a calendar leaf, smothered in heavy Burgundian array, and
her counterpart, whose dress alla ninfale and winged head-dress help her to
get off the ground (P1. 44e and f), proved that his conclusions had come full
circle.18 The discovery enabled him to make a further step in interpretation.
The two styles of presenting the human figure, one true to life, the second
classicizing, each answered a particular purpose, one serving to lift the object
of the representation into a more exalted sphere of existence than the other.
It was not simply meant as a pretty metaphor when Warburg spoke of the
Florentine butterfly emerging from the Burgundian chrysalis. He had put
15 GesammelteSchriften, p. I 13.
17 Ibid.,pp. 81-82.
16

Ibid., p. 184.

18 Ibid., p. 86.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

309

his finger on the point where the realistic Flemish style was about to give
way to the idealizing classicism of the High Renaissance.
This was the occasion for one of Warburg's most fruitful observations on
the historical level. He had not only given a convincing explanation of the
clash of the two styles in Florentine painting, but, by the same token, had
succeeded in putting into perspective the puzzling masquerade of classical
gods, kings, heroes and sages in Burgundian dress with their names inscribed
next to them to be recognized. This mode of presentation is far from deserving
the epithet 'naive' so often applied to it. Warburg coined for it the paradoxical expression 'antichith alla franzese', and saw in it a most powerful bar
on the road to the purer sources of classical art. But this disparagingjudgment
also implied the recognition that classical antiquity was not simply there to
be rediscovered. No less than from the debris that covered the monuments,
it had to be dug up from the layers that had settled on it by the agency of
its transmission. Ludwig Traube,19in Warburg's words 'the Grand Master of
our Order', had demonstrated this principle in his own field of palaeography.
He had taken scribal mistakes as indications of the periods and countries by
way of which classical texts have reached us. Now classical imagery, with its
Burgundian interlude, appeared on the same plane. It demonstrated the real
value of the classical tradition as a point of observation. The historical moment
can be viewed with a double pair of lenses: one focused on the face which it
actually presents, the other trained on the routes by which knowledge of the
past has been acquired. The story that every age tells, deliberately or by
implication, of its own remoter antiquity, sheds a reflected light in both
directions.
It had been in his handling of the Ninfa that Warburg first developed his
mannerism of lifting a figure from its formal context. Whether he realized it
or not, he had the sanction of the fifteenth century for it. It corresponded to
a habit of visual selection by which classical marbles were seen as a succession
of isolated figures (P1. 45a), thus throwing the postures into high relief, fit to
be copied or re-used.20 Though there is no suggestion in Warburg's discussion
of Duirer'sOrpheus21that the artist had drawn on such a model for his main
figure (which is in any case not likely because the whole composition is based
on a Greek invention) Warburg sensed in it an overriding concern with
gesture. The frequent use of similar highly emphatic gestures in a wide range
of Renaissance works of art led him to class them together in a group for which
he coined the word 'Pathos formulae'. They brought home to him what role
the recurrent classical motifs held in the process of image-making. His term
for them implies that he thought of them as conventions like the Ninfa, but
with a wider spread than any individual figure-however often used-could
have. It also implies that they were held together by a common expressive
purpose rather than formal similarity. What is made visible by them is not
a quality of the external world like movement, distance or space, but a state
19

Ludwig Traube,

I86I-1907,

Munich;
1888; 0
Roma Nobilis, 1891i; Textgeschichteder Regula

philologist: Karolingische Dichtungen,

20 B.
Degenhardt and A. Schmitt, 'Gentile
da Fabriano in Rom und die Anfiange des

Antikenstudiums',

Miinchner Jahrbuch der Bil-

S. Benedicti,1898; NominaSacra,1907; and dendenKunst, 3. Folge, ii, I960, pp. 59-151.


21 Gesammelte
others.
Schriften, pp. 445ff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

310o

G. BING

of the emotions. We are here treading on dangerous ground. Perhaps nothing


has been as hotly disputed as the power of the Fine Arts to render the emotions.
Lessing's Laocoon, a book which admittedly had set off Warburg on his way
as a young man, is an attempt to distinguish between the means of emotional
expression open respectively to the visual and the literary medium. But of
more immediate help to him was Charles Darwin's conception of gestures as
diminished traces left behind from purposeful and forcible actions performed
in the past.22 The gestures of classical art remount in their first coinings to a
period when the re-enactment of the myths was a deeply stirring ritual reality.
They are still able to call forth a corresponding emotional response, even in
the attenuated form of pigments and marble in which they have come down
to us. Warburg, in his search for a phraseology adapted to the properties of
sight, called them the superlatives in a language of gesture, pictorial formulations charged with a maximum of experience (P1. 45b and d). It will be
noticed that here we have another hint of an analogy between the visual and
the literary communicative modes.
We must leave it open whether Darwin's derivation of the meaning of
gestures can still be accepted. But the notion of maximum values of expression
to which it led Warburg, confirmed him in his view of the purposeful adaptation of artistic conventions and, with it, in his understanding of cultural
traditions. There is nothing to indicate that fifteenth-century artists using a
more for that
pathos formula intended to express their own emotions-no
fable
when
rendered
the
worlds
of
and
than
matter,
they
religious imagery.
They might or might not be imitating a certain style-that must be decided
on the merits of each case. But at all events they insinuated themselves into
an existing tradition, and that involved a deliberate choice. Tradition, for
Warburg, was not a stream on which events and people are borne along.
Influences are no matter of passive acceptance but demand an effort of
adjustment, 'eine Auseinandersetzung' as Warburg put it, which includes that
of the present with the past.
That this is a matter not only for artists and writers but for anyone faced
with the need of personal expression-especially in deeply emotional or highly
formalized situations of life-is demonstrated by the choice of classical formulae made by Francesco Sassetti in decorating his funeral chapel. Warburg's
supporting literary evidence is focused on one classical figure, the goddess
Fortuna, which also appears as a pictorial symbol. Her invocation may cover
a variety of attitudes, submission in Sassetti, self-assertion in Rucellai, worldly
wisdom in Ficino. But her meaning is fixed, she always stands for destiny
confronting individual worth. A different assessment of the expressive value
of symbols is called for by the figures appearing in the frieze round Sassetti's
sarcophagus. If we were to assume that they carry the meaning generally
attributed to them, the Centaurs,23 stamping their hooves and flourishing
slings, would stand for the destructive forces of nature or unseemly passions,
and the scene of lamentation, taken from a Roman Meleager sarcophagus,
would in its violent gesticulations far surpass the degree of mourning consonant
22 Charles Darwin, The
Expressionof the pp. 153-55; for the lamentation scene, ibid.,
Emotionsin Men and Animals, 1872.
pp. 154-58.
23For the centaurs, see Gesammelte
Schriften,

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

3"I

with the death of a Christian believing in Resurrection. They were chosen,


not for the sake of their conceptual content, but on account of their very
intensity. The heightening effect of formulations derived from antiquity which
Warburg had noticed in the Ninfa and certain classical gestures, here adds a
plus-sign to Sassetti's scale of expression. It was his sense of his own vigorous
temperament, the quickened awareness of the pulse of life, which had found
an outlet in his choice of symbols.
Such an interpretation seems to reaffirm Burckhardt's one-sided description of the New Man of the Renaissance. It might look as if Sassetti had
adopted the heroic attitudes of classical antiquity along with its formulae. In
fact, Warburg's answer was much more ambiguous, and the way in which
he proved it belongs to his most distinctive observations. The four roundels
over Sassetti's and his wife's tombs, representing scenes of Roman public life
copied from Imperial coins, are painted en grisaille.24 This translation of the
object of a representation into a minor grade of naturalness is meant to express
remoteness. The line of Warburg's argument is similar to that which led to
his analysis of the Flemish style, but it is in the reverse direction. While
admitting Roman realities to a place near his tomb by way of exemplars, yet
Sassetti did not want them to encroach too far on him. The scales in the
balance of old and new styles of expression were still even, and, as Warburg
says, the time had not come for the extravagant gestures of Roman battle
sarcophagi to penetrate into the representation in the Vatican of Christianity's
victory over paganism.
It must now be explained how the astrological images are linked in
Warburg's mind with the images which we discussed so far. Against the
assumption that he became interested in them for their iconographical importance we have his own word that his aim was not the solution of a rebus.
But the alternations of suppression and revival of the belief in stars provide
a startling example of the monumental transmission of classical conceptions,
and Warburg's manner of presenting it has since given rise to the charting of
a good many stretches and incidents along the road. Astrology was a case for
the only trait which might be called Warburg's 'method' to come fully into
its own. The single figures which he had pursued in their various modifications had come to mean to him 'images' or (from the point of view of their
application) 'symbols' par excellence. He had observed their mobility and
independence of time and place, and their wanderings had proved to be a
measure of cultural influences. In astrological imagery isolated figures, pagan
gods in disguise, were pushed about under the dictation of rules unconnected
with their intrinsic meaning. The manner in which they circulated is both
typical and easy to follow. For long periods of time they had, with few exceptions, been known only by descriptions. In this they resembled the images of
the mythographers which had preserved the classical stories under the cloak
of moral interpretations and which had finally reached fifteenth-century Italy
as 'antichith alla franzese'. In the Schifanoia calendar frescoes (P1. 45c)
certain details of posture and costume were clearly attributable to the languages into which the texts had been translated.25 Apart from the vagaries
24Ibid., p. I57.

25Ibid., pp. 467ff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

G. BING

3 x2

of transmission the change from discursive language to a picture meant to be


taken in at a flash has had its share in the metamorphoses of the gods.
A second point relates to the character of the astrological figures qua
images. In distinction to the learned nature of mythography the greater
vitality and wider diffusion of astrology shows that it was the concern of
many. It catered for those hoping it might be possible to explore the future
and learn about their own position in the scheme of things. These were also
the questions with which Sassetti and Rucellai had been confronted. But
they were able to have recourse to selected classical formulae which had been
deemed fit to express their hopes and fears. There was no such choice of
symbols for the believer in astrology. The images were a system of agreed
signs, spread over the sky at fixed distances. Their meaning was decided
beforehand and they could only be read as good or bad. Warburg made no
bones about his dislike for such manipulation of the ancient images. But as
yet he refused to allow astrology to have the last word. Raphael, he said, was
still to achieve the re-integration of the gods with their old dignity.
This armour of belief in progress broke down when Warburg began to
deal with the flood of astrological prognoses used in the battle for and against
the Reform of the Church. He discovered that the falsification of Luther's
horoscope, issued by his enemies, was upheld by his followers, each party
firmly convinced that the evidence of the stars was on their side.26 This
ambiguity is the very essence of astrological images. They possess a measure
of objectivity because they are the remnants, however distorted, of the Greek
conception of a rational universe. The network of star figures had served to
separate the confused impressions of the sky and put them into a calculable
order. But this effort of the intellect was thwarted by the delusion that the
heavens were amenable to private ends. Greek anthropomorphic thinking
had made it possible for the star figures to have become demons who might
be trapped into compliance by a clever divination of their intentions from
their movements in the sky. The astrological images, therefore, had a stake
in logic, operating by distinctions, as well as in magic which relies on the felt
connection between man and the objects of his perceptions. This double
aspect interfered with their self-evidence. They had to be interpreted by the
spoken or written word of the adept. With few exceptions, like the Schifanoia
frescoes and Chigi's ceiling in the Farnesina, the place of astrological images
was in the graphic arts. Here they could be accompanied by texts, and
conversely the belief in them was fed by the printing press, in that it supplied
the demand for it to serve topical purposes.
But even this was not Warburg's main point. He had watched images in
operation and had hoped to find out from this consultation on the spot to
which cues they responded. His search had been prompted by a keen sense
for the psychological play of demand and supply. From the specific requirements of the artist using the conventions proper to his own medium-as with
the case of Sassetti-at
had arrived-in
the use of
the Ninfa-Warburg
symbols to widen the individual's expressive capacity. The astrological images
ministered to the desire of all men to find their bearings in the universe-sich
im Weltall zu orientieren. But the secret of their power was such that even the
26

Ibid., pp. 490ff.

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. M. WARBURG

313

Reformers, in Warburg's eyes fighters for the freedom of conscience, had fallen
into their snares. Warburg's answer was that we have been saddled with an
ambiguous inheritance. Classical antiquity itself had been caught in the
pendulum between an Olympian and a demonic view of the world. The
astrological images had helped to build up an ordered universe fit to be
contemplated from afar, but on the other hand they had descended from their
places in the sky to become the tyrants of our daily lives. In Warburg's words,
they had been the means of widening the space between man and the world
and at the same time of destroying it.
Warburg had used the same terminology of withdrawal and approach in
his readings of Lorenzo's portrait, in contrasting the idealizing with the realistic
style, and in defining the effects of grisaille painting. He leaves us in no doubt
that his sympathies were in every case on the side of the distanced view. In
the ambiguity of the astrological images he now discovers that there are two
ways open to man of dealing with the natural world, by abstraction or by
union. The decision between them can never be final. Warburg sounds a
note of profound compassion when, seeing the substance of each man's personal task reflected in the course of history, he writes: 'Athens must ever
again be rescued from Alexandria.'

21

This content downloaded from 190.17.206.151 on Sun, 03 May 2015 23:28:11 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions