The Warburg Institute Summer School

Aby Warburg, the Picture Atlas and the Making of Visual Culture

mnemosyne atlas panel


The inaugural Warburg Institute Summer School is dedicated to the work of Aby Warburg and his picture atlas Mnemosyne. Over the course of five days (8 - 12 July 2019) participants will first be introduced to exemplary panels from the Atlas; they will examine original material, familiarise themselves with the collections of The Warburg Institute and discuss relevant texts by Warburg and other scholars that unlock this inspirational and complex body of work.

This course will combine lectures, discussion of readings, hands-on work with primary materials in the Warburg Institute and visits to relevant collections around London (including the National Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum). Throughout the week, groups of students will map motifs in contemporary visual culture back through time and space, drawing on materials in the Institute’s collections.

The Warburg Institute is located at Woburn Square in Bloomsbury, London. It has a history unlike any other institution within the humanities, being home to such luminaries as Ernst Gombrich, Frances Yates and Michael Baxandall. Its outstanding achievements within various fields of research - art history as well as history of philosophy, religion or sciences - are reflected in the intellectual culture of the Institute today and materially accessible due to what is probably ‘the most complete institutional archive within the humanities’ (Elizabeth Sears, University of Michigan). The Warburg Institute Summer School is a unique opportunity to engage with this history and its big ideas by working with original archival documents, books and images.

Convened by Professor Bill Sherman, Director, Warburg Institute and Dr Johannes von Müller, The Bilderfahrzeuge Research Group.

Teaching will be carried out by Warburg Institute academic staff and The Bilderfahrzeuge Research Group.

Fee: £550 standard; £450 student/unwaged (lunch and tea and coffee included each day)

We have a limited number of fee bursaries available to students. The bursary will cover your fees for the Summer School. Unfortunately the deadline to submit your application has now passed. 

Book your place



Monday, 8 July – The Warburg Institute, its History and the Bilderatlas

The day will offer both an orientation in the Warburg Institute’s collections and an introduction to the life and work of the Institute’s founder, Aby Warburg—culminating in Warburg’s unfinished Magnum Opus, the Bilderatlas Mnemosyne.



  • Introduction to selected materials on Pathosformel + Dürer and Antiquity (Steffen Haug)
  • Introduction of week-long group project on mapping histories of contemporary visual culture
  • Exploration of key themes in collections
  • Screening of Film on Aby Warburg and Reception


Tuesday, 9 July – What Does an Image Atlas Map?: Cartography and the Cosmos

As a prehistory to Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas-project, the history of maps will be assessed by looking at both geographical and cosmological maps. On this basis, medieval and early modern cosmologies can be examined as objects of Warburg’s research but also as models for his own strategies of visualising knowledge and processes of thinking.



  • Exploration of Cosmos Panels and History of Science (John Tresch, Alessandro Scafi, Matthew Vollgraff)
  • Visit to relevant collections


Wednesday, 10 July – Visual History and the Materials of the Bilderatlas

The students will visit the National Gallery and study selected paintings that Warburg has worked on and that appear in his Bilderatlas. Back at the Institute, students will have the unique opportunity of working with original photographic materials from the Atlas. The discussion will focus on questions of materiality, image transfer and media theory.


  • Visit to National Gallery with small group tours (Institute staff/Bilderfahrzeuge Fellows)


  • Discussion of Bilderatlas panels with NG paintings
  • Exploration of Photographic Collection and Digital Databases (Rembrandt Duits, Richard Gartner)
  • Work on group projects


Thursday, 11 July – Political Iconology

In his Bilderatlas project as well as in his wider research, Aby Warburg paid particular attention to contemporary visual culture. On the basis of his continuously refined methodology he studied images as a lens on political history as well as the politics of his own time. Following up on discussions of the political aspects of Warburg’s work, the students will turn to current phenomena of visual politics.


  • Introduction to ‘Mnesmosyne’ and Close Reading of relevant Panels (Claudia Wedepohl)
  • Political Iconology: Newspapers, Contemporary Politics (Johannes von Müller and Steffen Haug)


  • Political Iconology continued
  • Finalising Group Projects


Friday, 12 July – Exhibition History and Curatorial Studies 

Never intended as an exhibition, the Bilderatlas Mnemosyne nonetheless relies on techniques of display. This is particularily noteworthy, because Warburg himself experimented with exhibition making as did the Warburg Institute after its arrival in London. The last day will turn to questions of curation, discussing current exhibitions in London institutions, including a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum.


  • Visit to Victoria and Albert Museum for discussion of histories of reproduction and curation (Bill Sherman)


  • Discussion of Warburg Institute Exhibition Practice 1933-45 (Johannes von Müller)
  • Discussion of Past and Future Exhibitions of Warburg’s Bilderatlas (Claudia Wedepohl and Bill Sherman)
  • Presentations of Group Projects
  • Reception in Photographic Collection and Saxl Memorial Exhibition