Aby Warburgs Mnemosyne-atlas



Aby Warburg indrettede sig i 1926 i sit nye privatbibliotek, på med tiden henved 60.000 bind – som broderen betalte. Helt centralt for Warburg var det, at det nye bibliotek lod ham realisere sin idé om et særligt Mnemosyne-atlas – et billedarkiv arrangeret på op til 79 store paneler eller opslagstavler. Det særlige ved Mnemosyne-atlasset var, at det på grund af sin overskuelighed i rummet tillod Warburg at lave stadigt nye kategoriseringer udfra billedene – at finde stedse nye ‘røde tråde’ mellem dem. Han gjorde jævnligt status over de evindelige omrokeringer af billederne når mængden af dem sytnes at være faldet på plads i en vis orden. Det foregik på to måder: dels ved minutiøse beskrivelser i en serie notesbøger, dels simpelthen ved ind imellem at fotografere panelerne. Nedenfor er der et link til den sidste serie billeder og dermed den sidste relative orden Warburg nåede at fastholde fotografisk inden han i 1933 måtte forlade Hamburg og nazi-tyskland.









“If [Aby Warburgs] library was already the most eccentric of collections – organized not alphabetically or according to subject but by ‘elective affinities’, the secret intimacies that Warburg himself intuited between its volumes – its oddest offshoot is surely the massive and fragmentary constellation of images that Warburg, in the last five years of his life, obsessively tended and reorganized: the Mnemosyne Atlas. It is the strangest of art-historical artefacts: the kaleidoscopic image of the scholar’s enigmatic reordering of a lifetime’s meditation on the image. The Atlas, wrote Warburg, was ‘a ghost story for adults’: it invents a kind of phantomic science of the image, a ghost dance in which the most resonant gestures and expressions its creator had discovered in the course of his career return with a spooky insistence, suddenly cast into wholly new relationships.

In a sense, the Mnemosyne Atlas has never really existed, at least not in the form Warburg envisaged. At the time of his death it comprised 79 wooden panels, covered with black fabric, on which were pinned some 2,000 photographs from Warburg’s collection. The project was never completed, and only ever constituted a provisional version of its eventual incarnation in book form.  The panels themselves were lost when Warburg’s colleagues, fleeing Nazi Germany, relocated to London, and the images are now dispersed in the archives of the institute. Warburg’s final arrangement of the Atlas survives, however, as a series of 79 photographs. Se evt.:





Warburg i midten og Fritz Saxl(?) til højre – om hvem Dillon skriver: “[Warburgs] library contained 60,000 volumes and had been transformed by his colleague Fritz Saxl from a private collection into a research institution.”


Obscurely linked by the ‘conductive medium’ of the black ground, human bodies flex and falter in an array of gestures that stretches from Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485) to the contemporary physique of a woman golfer, from medieval zodiacal figures to a 1920s advertisement for 4711 cologne. Zeppelins float in the darkness beneath ancient cosmological maps [helt i tråd med surrealisternes paraplyer og symaskiner og Borges’ Kinesiske Opslagsværk (se Foucault-citatet under “A Timeline of Timelines”); ng]; the entire anachronistic discordia concors is dedicated to finding the most startling relationships between images that are worlds apart. The Atlas proposes an art of the in-between, what Warburg called the ‘iconology of the interval’.

The notion of its essential immateriality, its existence as a pure phantasmagoria in the imagination of its author, is given a faint outline on the pages of the large hardback notebooks in which Warburg ceaselessly planned and revised its shape. The pencilled ghosts of absent images haunt these volumes’ notional arrangements of the actual material. […] Gaze long enough at the dark screen of Mnemosyne and it is like looking at a ‘black’ cinema screen; as your eyes grow used to the dark, something comes to light: the screen itself, the empty but meaningful interval between images.

Despite Warburg’s intense effort to bring the past into focus in the present, it appears to suggest that an anatomy of the image is only ever a science of spectres: an impression heightened by its sudden demise in 1929, as if Warburg had succeeded in freeze-framing European culture in a paradoxical pose of frenzied immobility, just before the continent was plunged into the terrible mass-mobilization that sent his colleagues into exile in 1933. Warburg turned the scholarly archive into a mobile (and moving) artwork, transforming, as Karl Kraus wrote of the true artist, a solution into an enigma. [Alle fremhævelser af ng]


[Alle citater herover fra: Brian Dillon;  Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. Hele artiklen fra FRIEZE findes her:



Der findes gode atikler af og om Aby Warburg og hans Mnemosyne-atlas på dansk i tidsskrriftet Passage Nr. 31/32 – 1999 – med temaet “Snyderum”.



Warburg-instituttet efter flytningen til Thames House i London


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