The Frieze of the 9 Muses

In 2020 Mark Amies of the Warburg Institute wrote a most informative blog – ‘Around and about the Warburg Institute’. This included the history of the frieze of the 9 muses currently displayed in the Institute foyer. This update shows how the frieze will be incorporated within the Warburg Renaissance refurbishment. Mark explained that where the Warburg stands now was the site of numbers 1 to 6 Gordon Square South, built by Thomas Cubitt in the 1830s. As the photograph below shows, there was a formal entrance with a doric-columned porch, and then further back what was either a garden entrance or a service entrance. Set in the wall to the left of the doorway was the frieze. It is made of Coade stone and is a copy of part of a second century AD Roman sarcophagus in the collection of the Louvre in Paris. Remarkably enough, this very object appears in Panel 2 of Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas Mnemosyne(Mark’s blog also includes more information on Coade stone.)

No 1 Gordon Square 1942 - Source: Historic England Archive
No 1 Gordon Square 1942 - Source: Historic England Archive

Having been badly damaged during World War 2 bombing, 1-6 Gordon Square were demolished in 1957 to make way for the Warburg Institute. The frieze was saved and installed in the Warburg, both as a memento of the lost building and as a tribute to Warburg’s presiding deity Mnemosyne (Goddess of memory and mother of the 9 muses).

frieze of 9 muses
The frieze as it looks today in the foyer of the Warburg Institute

The 9 Muses from left to right: Calliope, who holds a scroll; Thalia, holding a comic mask; Terpsichore, Muse of dance; Euterpe, holds a double flute; Polyhymnia, leans on a rock; Clio, has a writing-tablet; Erato, holds a cithara; Urania, muse of astronomy, is shown with a globe at her feet; and Melpomene, wears a tragic mask.

Warburg Renaissance

As part of the Warburg Renaissance refurbishment project the planned redesign of the Institute’s ground floor means that the frieze has to be relocated. The project team is keen to see some level of renovation take place, especially as the resiting will entail the dismantling of the frieze into its 9 constituent parts—thus giving the perfect opportunity to remove the remains of several coats of paint applied through the years.   A specialist conservation company has been appointed to take the frieze off-site for renovation. It will be removed at the end of August 2023, at the beginning of the third and final phase of the Warburg Renaissance. When the transformed ground floor opens in Spring 2024, the frieze will reappear in a new reception waiting area.   The restoration of the frieze will cost close to £20,000, and the Warburg Institute is looking for supporters (whom it, in fact, calls ‘Muses’) to help. A gift of £2k will ‘Adopt a Muse’ in honour or memory of someone special, and they will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. If you want to know more or to find out which muses are still available, please contact the Institute’s Director, Bill Sherman (