A Vision for Europe

British Art and the Mediterranean

A collaboration between Central St Martins, Bilderfahrzeuge and the Warburg institute

11 January 2017

Switch House, Tate Exchange Event


20 - 21 March 2017 

Reasearch Workshop, The Warburg Institute


20 – 31 March 2017          

Public Discussion, part of Annihilation, Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins




After Aby Warburg’s death in 1929 Fritz Saxl, his assistant for many years, took over the direction of theKulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (or the Warburg Haus) in Hamburg that housed an extensive library, reading room, facilities for projection and lectures and photographic resources.

The Nazis came to power in 1933 and Saxl had all of the contents shipped to London and the KBW set up there as the Warburg Institute.  It was dependent upon the generosity of the British Government, especially in providing premises and later the patronage of Sam Courtauld who financed the building it moved into in 1952 and where it is to this day.  The war years were particularly difficult for the Institute.  Its scholars were German and many were Jewish and their work often esoteric and specialized.  Saxl addressed this situation by staging 4 photographic exhibitions during the war years. English Art and the Mediterranean was staged by Fritz Saxl, with Rudolf Wittkover, in 1941 at the Warburg’s then home in the Imperial Institute Buildings in South Kensington. The British government referred to the Warburg’s staff as ‘alien scholars’ and this project demonstrated how they were putting their expertise into service for the British War effort.  The scholarship was not only patriotic but also forged connections in forming a British, European identity -  an essential aspect of the war effort.  

Kenneth Clark, the then director of the National Gallery, London enthusiastically supported the Institute and the project, giving an opening address on its first day.  The exhibition was a huge success. There was little to see in war time London, the major collections were stored in Welsh mines for their protection so this exhibition was a visual extravagance during the austerity of the period.  The exhibition used the resources and methodologies of past exhibitions the Warburg had staged in its Hamburg days and is importantly related to Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas in terms of establishing an image driven analysis and narrative.   

English Art and the Mediterranean was comprised of around 500 photographs on 86 panels.  In 1948 the panels were used as a paste-up model for a publication entitled British Art and the Mediterranean that was republished in 1968. The photographic material is still in-tact in the Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute.  The Annihilation event will interact with the material initially to ascertain the archive’s condition and then to engage with a selection its panels  This process will involve a group of students, teaching staff from CSM, the help of the CSM Study Collection and members of the Bilderfahrzeuge team.  With the latter, different members of the team will interact with different panels, according to their expertise.  Possibly an archaeologist, related to the wider Annihilation project, will interact with a pre-history panel.  The processing of the material is seen as a major step in activating this archive, bringing it into the present, in a context where it now, more than ever, has resonance and value.