Isabella Woldt

Research Fellow - Bilderfahrzeuge Project

Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7862 8746

Bilderfahrzeuge Project Website

Research Interests

Tapestries and textiles as mobile vehicles, their perception and workshop|Theory of art and culture, especially Aby Warburg’s theory of image memory and Warburg’s academic circle |Epistemology of visual elements; history and philosophy of sciences, visual studies|Early Modern art and architecture (urban spaces, Baroque residences, especially in Central and East-Central Europe)

My current project

Im Reich der Sinne. Tapestries as repositories of information and mediators of knowledge from the early Renaissance

Tapestries are precious works of art and craft in all cultural epochs, but they simultaneously represent a “contemporary documents” (zeitgenössische Dokumente, Warburg, 1927) in their form, function and content. For instance, the structural differentiation of the design of tapestries can be observed from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, especially during epoch transitions. In cultural–historical terms these works embody highly complex, often encrypted, iconographic programs which relate to historical and political contexts and events.

A very special characteristic of tapestries is their mobility. Unlike panel paintings or sculptures and despite their monumental sizes, tapestries could be curled to facilitate their easy transport or storage. They were taken on travels or displayed but also often removed in residences. Due to their preciousness indicate the high social status of their owners. Complex programs, both religious and secular, mirrored the owners’ sophistication. The use of tapestries in ceremonial courts emphasised their importance as a part of cultural and political life. Precisely because of all of these characteristics, tapestries were also often used as gifts. As a “nervous encompassing organs” (nervöse Auffangsorgane; Warburg, 1927), they commemorated cultural-historical, political and aesthetic mechanisms, which could be topographically and temporally transferred. However, several questions need to be addressed to enhance our understanding of tapestries: How were they transported? What pieces of information did they contain (iconographic programs, style forms)? For which occasions were they used (ceremonial gifts, purposes)? Who was the invented recipient (aristocratic, secular or clerical, sovereigns or clients)? In what cases were they constituted and transferred? What intentions accompanied the works and for what purpose were they used (propaganda, moral, aesthetics)?

The main subject of investigation will be tapestries and the motives behind their use as related to the literary works of the Italian poet and humanist Francesco Petrarca. The visualised reception of his poems on tapestries became very popular in 15th and to the beginning of the 16th century. The main goal of the investigation will not only be to show and emphasise that tapestries were typological sources of mediation of humanism during the Renaissance in Europe, nor focus on motives which obviously reflect literary content. The study will instead conduct an in-depth examination of such motives, which were obviously added as new elements. Therefore, beyond the aesthetic relevance involved, the investigation will identify the socio-political background of the process of origination and will evaluate it on a cultural and political fundament, as well as on an international one, as a motive of communication.

An important focus of the study will be the workmanship of the tapestries. Designs were transferred from carton to tissue. The tissue form requires and therefore evokes a different process of perception as that of a drawing, painting or sculpture. During the process of weaving, the content of a design ingress immediately in the tissue. The tissue and its structure regulate thereafter the process of perception of the recipient. The creative work gradually progresses; tapestries become larger with each step of the weaving process until the plan set is achieved and fully presented in a visual form. The process of weaving can therefore be conceived as a constant form of continuation. The tissue of tapestries serves as a repository of information and mediator of knowledge. The tissue itself becomes a repository of the composition and thus an informant. Cultural and historical knowledge is manually ingrained into the tissue, such that cultural memory is preserved and transferred trough epochs and spaces. Finally an examination of the physiological processes of perception and memory in the brain compared with the process of perception of other types of art works, which arguably create different types of perceptions because of the different emotions evoked, will comprise the final part of the investigation.

Curriculum Vitae

I studied History of Art and Philosophy at the Universität Hamburg and hold a Magister Artium (1997) and Doctoral Dissertation (2001) in the History of Art from the Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar Universität Hamburg. 2001 I was a DAAD Visiting Professor at the Institut for the History of Art at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland; 2002-2004 I worked as a lecturer at the same Institute in Poznan; 2005-2007 I took the position as fellow of the Aby Warburg Foundation for the Warburg Edition/Collected Works at Warburg Haus, Hamburg and since then till 2017 I was a Co-Editor of the Edition. In that period I also managed and did research in my project „The Central and East-Central European Nobility and their Estates 1650-1850“ in collaboration with Prof. T. Zuchowski (Poznan); I was also researcher at Shaftesbury Forschungsstelle Erlangen-Nürnberg (Lord Shaftesbury’s Writings on Art. Commentaries); 2007-2014 I worked as a lecturer and habilitand at the Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar, Universität Hamburg with the project on Aby Warburg’s Theory of Image-Memory in his Picture Series. Since May 2014 I’m holding a position as scientific collaborator and member of the International Research Group “Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of the Iconology” at the Warburg Institute in London.

Scholarships /Grants/Prizes

January –April 2014 Fellowship at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University, New York

May-July 2012 Fellowship at the Center Allemand d’Histoire d’Art  (Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte), Paris

January 2008 Aby M. Warburg-Prize (Warburg-Stipend); by the Senat of the City and State of Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg)

2007 Founding by the Bundesbeauftragte für Kultur and Medien (German State Minister for Culture and Media, Berlin/Bonn)

2006-2007 Founding by the Foundation for Polish-German Collaboration (Warsaw, Poland) for an international research project „The Central and East-Central European Nobility and their Estates 1650-1850“

2005 Travel Grant of the Übersee Club e. V. Hamburg, research at the Warburg Institute, London

2004 J. G. Getty Grant, 31 International CIHA, Montreal (Canada)

2002-2003 DAAD (German Academic Exchange Association) Visiting Professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan (Poland)

1997-1999 DFG (German Research Association) Doctorate Grants

Selected Publications


- Architektonik der Formen in Shaftesburys Second Characters. Über soziale Neigung des Menschen, Kunstproduktion und Kunstwahrnehmung. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2004.

- Prag. Kunst und Architektur. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012.

- Im Labor der Bildertafeln. Das Funktionsprinzip der Reihenbildung und Aby Warburgs Theorie der Funktion des Bildgedächtnisses, Deutscher Kunstverlag: München (forthcoming)

Edited Books

- Aby Warburg. Gesammelte Schriften Studienausgabe. Bilderreihen und Ausstellungen. II, 2. Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2012 (Co-Editor Uwe Fleckner)

- Im Dienst der Nation. Identitätsstiftungen und Identitätsbrüche in Werken der bildenden Kunst. Mnemosyne. Schriften des Internationalen Warburg Kollegs, Berlin: Oldenbourg Akademieverlag, 2011 (Co-Editor Matthias Krüger)

- Im Schatten von Berlin und Warschau. Adelssitze im Herzogtum Preußen und Nordpolen 1650-1850. Berlin: Reimer, 2010 (Co-Editor Tadeusz Zuchowski)


- Family Matters. The Great Depression of 1929 and its Consequences for the Warburg Library, in: The Afterlife of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg. The Emigration and the Early Years of the Warburg Institute in London, ed. by Uwe Fleckner and Peter Mack, Berlin/Boston 2015 (Vorträge aus dem Warburg Haus, 12), pp 15-22.

- The Operating Principle of Picture Series. Aby Warburg’s Theory of the Function of Image Memory and the Renaissance Festival’s Pictures, in: IKON Journal of Iconographic Studies, 2014, pp 7-22.

- Die große St. Michaelis Kirche in Hamburg. Zur Hermeneutik des protestantischen Baus im Zeitalter der Aufklärung, in: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte (2014), pp 47-73.

- Hercules at the Crossroads. Shaftesbury’s Concept of Freedom, Neuroscience and Compatibilism, in: New Ages, New Opinions. Shaftesbury in his World and Today, ed. by Patrick Müller. Bern-Berlin: Peter Lang Edition, 2014, pp 131-149.

- Cassirer und die Bibliothek Warburg, in: Handbuch Kulturphilosophie, ed. by Ralf Konersmann, Stuttgart – Weimar: J. B. Metzler, 2012, pp. 119-124.

- Architekturcodes im barocken Adelssitz. Der Sarmatismus als vormoderne Form nationaler Identitätsstiftung in Polen-Litauen, in: Im Dienst der Nation. Identitätsstiftungen und Identitätsbrüche in Werken der bildenden Kunst, ed. by Isabella Woldt and Matthias Krüger,  Mnemosyne. Schriften des Internationalen Warburg Kollegs, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2011, pp. 345-371.

- Constructing the World in Symbols. Aby M. Warburg and Ernst Cassirer on Imagery, in: The Way of the World. A Festschrift for R. H. Stephenson, ed. by Paul Bishop. Cultural Studies and the Symbolic, 4. Leeds 2011, pp. 125-136.

- Sobieskis Königsresidenz in Wilanów und Krasińskis Palais in Warschau. Architektur im Spannungsfeld von Antikenrezeption und Sarmatismus im Barock, in: Welche Antike? Konkurrierende Rezeptionen des Altertums im Barock Bd. I., ed. by Ulrich Heinen. Wolfenbütteler Arbeiten zur Barockforschung, 47. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011, pp. 397-429.

- “Freiheit”, in: Handbuch der Politischen Ikonographie, 3 Vols. vol I, ed. by Uwe Fleckner, Martin Warnke, Hendrik Ziegler. München: C. H. Beck, 2011, pp. 372-380.

- “Residenz”, in: Handbuch der Politischen Ikonographie. 3 vols, vol. II, ed. by Uwe Fleckner, Martin Warnke, Hendrik Ziegler, München: C. H. Beck, 2011, pp. 310-318.

- “Unterwerfung”, in: Handbuch der Politischen Ikonographie, 3 Vols, Vol. II, ed. by Uwe Fleckner, Martin Warnke, Hendrik Ziegler. München: C. H. Beck, 2011, pp. 497-505.

- Krakau-Nürnberg: Wirtschaftliche Partnerschaft und Kunsttransfer in der Frühen Neuzeit – Fallbeispiel: Das Callimachus-Epitaph von Veit Stoß und der Peter Vischer-Werkstatt, in: Frankens Städte und Territorien als Kulturdrehscheibe. Kommunikation in der Mitte Deutschlands. Interdisziplinäre Tagung vom 29. bis 30. September 2006 Weißenburg in Bayern, ed. by Wolfgang Wüst. Mittelfränkische Studien, 19. Ansbach: Philipp Schmidt, 2008, pp. 56-86.

Bilderfahrzeuge Project:

Books (Monographs/Editorships)

(Forthcoming) Woldt Isabella: "Im Labor der Bildertafeln. Warburgs Theorie des Bildgedächtnisses", München: Deutscher Kunstverlag 2018-2019.

Journal essays/articles

(Forthcoming) Woldt Isabella: “'Let mot pour l'image. Le livre illustré et l'image dans la science de la culture de Warburg” in: Revue Germanique Internationale, Spring (2018), pp. xxx-xxx.

(Forthcoming) Woldt Isabella: “Ur-Words of Affective Language of Gestures. The Hermeneutics of Body Movement in Aby Warburg’, in: Interfaces. Revue soutenue par l'Institute des Sciences Humaines et Sociales du CNRS, 40 (2018) pp. xxx-xxx.

Essays for edited volumes or exhibition catalogues

(Forthcoming) Woldt Isabella: “The Navajo-Weaver. Aby Warburg's Approach to the Anthropology of Textiles”, in: Warburg in/on America. Translations and Projections, edited by Linda Báez-Rubí, Emilie Carréon, México: Instituto de Investigationes Estéticas, pp. xxx-xxx.

(Forthcoming) Woldt Isabella: "Verhängnisvolle Mobilität. Die Armada Tapisserien des Lord Effigham", in: Das verirrte Kunstwerk. Funktion und Rezeption vom Wege abgekommener 'Bilderfahrzeuge', edited by Uwe Fleckner, Elena Tolstichin, Berlin: DeGruyter, (Studien aus dem Warburg Haus), pp xxx-xxx.