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Aby Warburg

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Mary Hertz: Portrait head of Aby Warburg, around 1930

"Jew by birth, Hamburger at heart, Florentine in spirit"—this is how Aby Warburg once described himself. As one of the pioneers of modern cultural studies, he studied the influence of antiquity on the modern age. Breaking through academic habitudes, the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (K.B.W.) was established in Hamburg as the result of his work and the necessary basis for its continuation.

Biography

1871

The family moves to the district of Rotherbaum

13.6.1866

Born in Hamburg (Grindelviertel), the eldest of seven children. Parents: Charlotte Esther (née Oppenheim) and Moritz Warburg, head of the family-run banking house, M. M. Warburg & Co., founded in 1798

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Mittelweg 17

1873 – 1885

Besuch der Vorschule und des Realgymnasiums des Hamburger Johanneums

1879

Since-legendary forfeiture of primogeniture and transferal of rights to his brother Max, on the condition that he agrees to provide the funds to purchase any book that Aby desires in future

1885

Abitur (A-Levels) at the Realgymnasium of the Johanneum

1886

Sits additional exams in Greek, Latin and ancient history at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums. Intended profession: archaeologist

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1888

Warburg meets his future wife, sculptor and painter Mary Hertz, in Florence

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1891

Attains his PhD in Strasbourg; theme of dissertation: Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’: A Study on the Ideas of Antiquity in the Italian Early Renaissance

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Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1486, Florence, Uffizi
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Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1477–1482, Florence, Uffizi

1892 – 1893

Military service in Karlsruhe as a horseman in an artillery regiment

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1893

Publication of his dissertation; the first of Warburg’s many publications

1893 - 1895

Archive studies in Florence, including investigations into the festivals held at the Seicento in Florence; summer sojourns in Hamburg, Germany

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1895

Travels to the United States to attend the wedding of his brother, Paul M. Warburg

Visits the Hopi Indians, acquires various objects, which he then donates to the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg.

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1897

Marries Mary Hertz; their daughter Marietta is born in 1899, their son Max Adolph in 1902, and daughter Frede Charlotte in 1904

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1900

Plans commence for building of the ‘Warburg Library of Cultural Studies’ in Hamburg.

1904

Family returns to Hamburg

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With children, Frede Charlotte, Max Adolph and Marietta
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With father and brothers, 1910

1909

The Warburgs move into the house at no. 114 Heilwigstraße and acquire the neighbouring plot of land at Heilwigstraße 116

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1911

Meets Fritz Saxl for the first time

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1912

Turns down position in Halle. Appointed by the Hamburg Senate as professor to the nascent Hamburg University, eventually founded in 1919.

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Francesco del Cossa, March fresco (Pallas), 1469-1470, Palazzo Schifanoia

His Schifanoia lecture at the International Congress of Art Historians in Rome marks the ‘birth’ of iconology

1913

Fritz Saxl takes up post at the library

1915

Meets Erwin Panofsky for the first time

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1918

Signs of mental illness; treatment at the private clinic of Dr Lienau, Hamburg

1920

Publication of Pagan-Antique Prophecy in Words and Images in the Age of Luther

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Saturn’s Children, Tübingen, cod. M.d.2, fol. 266v, early 15th century

1921 – 1924

Stays at Ludwig Binswanger’s private clinic, Bellevue, in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland

1923

Lecture on the ‘snake ritual’, delivered in Bellevue clinic on 21 April

1924

Meets Ernst Cassirer for the first time in Kreuzlingen

Returns to Hamburg in August

1925 – 1929

Gives seminars for the art history course at the University of Hamburg

Works on the Mnemosyne Atlas, his many picture series and the Bildersammlung zur Geschichte von Sternglaube und Sternkunde, on the history of astrology and astronomy

Picture series

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1926

The new library building at no. 116 Heilwigstraße opens in May

KBW

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1926

Participates in the Oriental studies conference in Hamburg

Visualizes design for a postage stamp on the theme of
idea vincit

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Design for a Postage stamp by Otto Heinrich Strohmeyer, commissioned by Warburg, 1926

1928 - 1929

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Warburg with Gertrud Bing and Franz Alber at the Palace Hotel in Rome, with his son Max Adolph, 1925

Stays in Italy with Gertrud Bing, continues work on the Mnemosyne Atlas, gives several lectures, including at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome

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with his son Max Adolph, 1925
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1929

Warburg dies in Hamburg on 26 October

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1930

Warburg’s ‘Image Collection on the History of Astrology and Astronomy’ opens at the Hamburg Planetarium

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1933

K.B.W. relocates to London

Warburg’s study practices and approaches are continued, advanced and rediscovered. They inform and inspire scholarship in art and cultural history, visual studies, as well as other branches of the humanities.

Picture Credits

  1. © UHH, RRZ/MCC, Mentz
  2. © Warburg-Archiv, Hamburg
  3. © Warburg-Institute Archive, London
  4. © Ron Chernow, The Warburgs. The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, New York 1993