Xinyi Wen (University of Cambridge): 'Bilderfahrzeuge to China: Aby Warburg’s Encounter with Chinese Astrology'
Aby Warburg, famous as an art historian of Renaissance Europe, also had a longstanding interest in East Asia. This paper will reconstruct a forgotten episode of Warburg’s encounter with Chinese astrology, and discuss how it shaped Warburg’s idea of image migration and cultural universality. Influenced by his family’s business activities, Warburg has already expressed an interest in East Asia in his early years. Through the Kolonialinstitut founded in 1908, Warburg collected several East Asian books and almanacs and built connections with Hamburg sinologists. Intrigued by East Asian cosmology, Warburg once supposed that Chinese astrological images could be migrated from ancient Greece; however, sinologist Otto Franke persuaded him of the independent origin of Chinese astrology with his impressive 1926 lecture at the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg. This lecture inspired Warburg and Saxl to include a Chinese almanac and a Beijing Temple of Heaven in their 1927-1929 astrological exhibitions, which expanded their curatorial narratives in a new direction.
This paper argues that this late change in Warburg’s views on Chinese astrology suggested a subtle yet crucial turn in Warburg’s methods. Instead of seeking to explain the east-west exchanges on a universal magic-reason axis, Warburg began to realise the multiplicity of cosmologies and the incommensurability of their coordinates. Warburg’s oscillation between the universal and the local connects to both the Kircherian/Enlightenment hierarchy of cultures and our contemporary discussions on global cosmotechnics. This direction of thought, though yet to be fully realised during Warburg’s lifetime, still informs our understanding of worldwide cosmologies today.
Presented by the Bilderfahrzeuge Project.
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image: 翰文堂顶大诹吉通书 Han wên t'ang ting ta tsou ki t'ung schu (Canton, 1893), FAH 5425, Warburg Institute Library