Arrangement of the Collection

The Photographic Collection of the Warburg Institute was, like the Library, originally the private collection of Aby Warburg. At the time of his death in 1929 it already contained around 10,000 photographs, and in the years since then it has grown steadily, consisting at present of about 400,000 photographs divided into more than 18,000 categories.

At first the photographs were ordered by medium and topography (as 'Umbrian painting' or 'Florentine sculpture'), with one or two iconographic subsections where these mirrored the interests of Warburg or Fritz Saxl. However, after the Institute's move to London in 1933, it was decided to order the entire Collection iconographically, and a system of subject categories was devised by Rudolf Wittkower and Edgar Wind. In the years since then, the number of categories has grown considerably, since new photographs with new subjects have necessitated new folders, and swollen sections have had to be divided into ever finer iconographic subdivisions. Nevertheless, the overall armature laid down by Wittkower and Wind is still in place: it has a flexibility and logic which makes it very easy to work with.

View the sections below, or download the Index as a Word document (1.22 MB)

Guide to the Subject Index

Each section of the collection, as the Index makes plain, divides up in its own way; some are arranged alphabetically, while others follow narrative sequences, and others are linked together by adjacent themes or concepts.

The photographs are kept in filing cabinets, and the main stock is placed in brown folders of three different sizes. The three orders of folders are placed one inside the other, corresponding to the subdivisions of a theme, as indicated, approximately, in the following Index. While the larger folders should never be removed from the drawers, the smallest ones can be taken out for consultation. Within them the photographs are in random order, and there is no division by date or (with rare exceptions) medium.

The photographs illustrating the "Census of Antique Art and Architecture Known to the Renaissance" are placed in blue folders within each relevant category. In this Index the headings of individual Census folders are not listed, since the Census as a whole has been computerised, and is available online

The photographs are mounted, and information is provided on the back of the mounts. This is kept to the minimum, but wherever possible a reference is provided to a catalogue or article in which fuller information can be found.

Two characteristics are fundamental to the arrangement, and to the form of the headings. First, the users of the Institute are assumed to have an understanding of the subject on which they are undertaking research, and to be able to judge where best to look. Second, all users have direct access to the files, which means that as they open a drawer in a filing cabinet they can see at a glance the range of possibilities. If they fail to find what they need in one place, they can readily move to another, aided by the cross-reference card-index. Thus they can make a thorough search through categories which inevitably overlap, as for example in "The Virgin and Child".

The Index is intended to fulfil three purposes:

- To help those working in the Collection to find their way about, and to locate particular subjects.

- To provide suggestions for others designing an iconographic system.

- To assist those who may be planning to visit the Institute to see the range covered by the Photographic Collection.