he Institute is named after its founder Aby Warburg (1866-1929). Born in Hamburg, Warburg studied the history of art in Bonn, Florence and Strasbourg before graduating with a doctoral thesis on Botticelli's mythologies. Following Jakob Burckhardt, he came increasingly to feel the limitations of a predominantly stylistic approach to the history of art, and sought contact with the emerging Kulturwissenschaft of the anthropologists. The years succeeding his graduation were devoted to research in the archives of Florence, so as to build up a detailed picture of the intellectual and social milieu of Lorenzo de Medici's circle. From this inquiry, Warburg was led to ask what the Florentines of his chosen period saw in antiquity, and why symbols created in a pagan context reappeared with renewed vitality in fifteenth-century Italy. Thus he conceived the programme of illustrating the processes by which the memory of the past affects a culture. The paradigm he chose was the influence of antiquity on modern European civilization in all its aspects - social, political, religious, scientific, philosophical, literary and artistic - and he ordered his private library in Hamburg accordingly.
In 1913 Warburg was joined by Fritz Saxl (1890-1948) who, in 1921, turned the library into a research institute. The further development of the Institute, especially after Warburg's death in 1929, was guided by Saxl, whose interests ranged over the history of art and religion, from the study of Mithraic monuments and astrological manuscripts to Rembrandt and Velázquez. Like Warburg, Saxl taught at the University of Hamburg where Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Cassirer were his colleagues. The publications which appeared under his editorship show how large was the circle of scholars whom he attracted and who helped to shape the Institute's outlook and traditions.
After the rise of the Nazi régime, Saxl accepted the invitation of an adhoc committee to transfer the
Institute to London where, with the support of Lord Lee of Fareham, Samuel Courtauld and the
Warburg family, it was installed in Thames House in 1934, moving to the Imperial Institute Buildings,
South Kensington, in 1937. In 1944 the Institute was incorporated in the University of London. In 1994
it became a founder-member of the University's School of Advanced Study.
Saxl was succeeded as Director by Henri Frankfort (1897-1954), whose interest in the links
between religion and social organization in the Ancient Near East extended the Institute's range. He
was followed in 1955 by Gertrud Bing (1892-1964), whose career at the "Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek"
had begun in 1922.
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