The Institute is named after its founder Aby Warburg (1866-1929). In 1913 Warburg was joined by Fritz Saxl (1890-1948) who, in 1921, turned the library into a research institute. The further development of the Institute, especially after Warburg's death in 1929, was guided by Saxl, whose interests ranged over the history of art and religion, from the study of Mithraic monuments and astrological manuscripts to Rembrandt and Velázquez. Like Warburg, Saxl taught at the University of Hamburg, where Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Cassirer were his colleagues. In 1944 the Institute was incorporated in the University of London. In 1994 it became a founder-member of the University's School of Advanced Study.
Aby Warburg 1866-1929
The Institute is named after its founder Aby Warburg (1866-1929). Born in Hamburg, Warburg studied the history of art in Bonn, Florence and Strasbourg before graduating with a doctoral thesis on Botticelli's mythologies. Following Jakob Burckhardt, he came increasingly to feel the limitations of a predominantly stylistic approach to the history of art, and sought contact with the emerging Kulturwissenschaft of the anthropologists. The years succeeding his graduation were devoted to research in the archives of Florence, so as to build up a detailed picture of the intellectual and social milieu of Lorenzo de' Medici's circle. From this inquiry, Warburg was led to ask what the Florentines of his chosen period saw in antiquity, and why symbols created in a pagan context reappeared with renewed vitality in fifteenth-century Italy. Thus he conceived the programme of illustrating the processes by which the memory of the past affects a culture. The paradigm he chose was the influence of antiquity on modern European civilization in all its aspects – social, political, religious, scientific, philosophical, literary and artistic – and he ordered his private library in Hamburg accordingly.
Fritz Saxl 1890 - 1948
In 1913 Warburg was joined by Fritz Saxl (1890-1948) who, in 1921, turned the library into a research institute. The further development of the Institute, especially after Warburg's death in 1929, was guided by Saxl, whose interests ranged over the history of art and religion, from the study of Mithraic monuments and astrological manuscripts to Rembrandt and Velázquez. Like Warburg, Saxl taught at the University of Hamburg where Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Cassirer, were his colleagues. The publications which appeared under his editorship show how large was the circle of scholars whom he attracted and who helped to shape the Institute's outlook and traditions.
After the rise of the Nazi régime, Saxl accepted the invitation of an adhoc committee to transfer the Institute to London where, with the support of Lord Lee of Fareham, Samuel Courtauld and the Warburg family, it was installed in Thames House in 1934, moving to the Imperial Institute Buildings, South Kensington, in 1937. In 1944 the Institute was incorporated in the University of London. In 1994 it became a founder-member of the University's School of Advanced Study.
Saxl was succeeded as Director by Henri Frankfort (1897-1954), whose interest in the links between religion and social organization in the Ancient Near East extended the Institute's range. He was followed in 1955 by Gertrud Bing (1892-1964), whose career at the Institute had begun in 1922. Under her Directorship the Institute moved into its permanent home in a new building on the University site in 1958. From 1959 to 1976 Sir Ernst H. Gombrich O.M. (1909-2001) was Director, from 1976 to 1990, J. B. Trapp, from 1991 to 2001, Nicholas Mann, from 2001 to 2010 Charles Hope, from 2010 to 2014 Peter Mack and from 2015 to 2017 David Freedberg. The present Director of the Warburg Institute is Bill Sherman.
Eric M. Warburg, The Transfer of the Warburg Institute to England, from: The Warburg Institute Annual Report 1952-1953.
Links to the Catalogue of the School of Advanced Study on: Editions of the Works of Aby Warburg - Studies on Warburg - The Warburg Institute & Library
The Emblem of the Warburg Institute
The emblem, which appears above the door of the Institute, is taken from a woodcut in the edition of the De natura rerum of Isidore of Seville (560-636) printed at Augsburg in 1472. In that work it accompanies a quotation from the Hexameron of St Ambrose (III.iv.18) describing the interrelation of the four elements of which the world is made, with their two pairs of opposing qualities: hot and cold, moist and dry. Earth is linked to water by the common quality of coldness, water to air by the quality of moisture, air to fire by heat, and fire to earth by dryness. Following a doctrine that can be traced back to Hippocratic physiology, the tetragram adds the four seasons of the year and the four humours of man to complete the image of cosmic harmonies that both inspired and retarded the further search for natural laws.
The Trust Deed outlines the agreement between the Warburg family, the Warburg Society and the University of London.