The Mnemosyne Atlas, October 1929

Warburg tried to establish a final or last version of the Bilderatlas after his return, in mid-July 1929, from a nine-months long sojourn in Italy, followed by a stay at a health spa. Whilst in Rome he had been working on two series of panels for central chapters of the Bilderaltas. The first of these two additional series was developed in connection with his lecture at the Biblitoteca Hertiziana, held in late January 1929, and the second, much shorter series, was drafted in early May 1929. After Warburg had returned to Hamburg, he worked ceaselessly to include the findings of his Italian journey in the Bilderatlas-in-progress. The last written record of an order of panels and arrangement of images, established by himself, dates from 19 October 1929. Warburg passed away ten days later, on 29 October 1929. Sometime after this date 63 numbered – since the calligraphy of the numbers varies and differs from the existing series, possibly including minor posthumous changes – and an unknown number of unnumbered panels were photographed of an Atlas clearly incomplete. The most striking proof of the status of ‘work-in-progress’ is the gap between panels 8 and 20, a lacuna of 11 numbers. Perhaps Warburg was still trying to finalize the so-called development of Perseus; a short series of unnumbered panels addressing this theme is extant, too. As a fighter against monsters, Perseus was for Warburg a mythical incarnation of the human soul in its struggle against evil. Warburg neither managed to include the impact of the thought of Giordano Bruno, the early modern philosopher for whom myths were an allegory of cognition; he had discovered Bruno’s crucial role in the development of abstract thinking during his trip to Italy. [C.W.]