Such was the demand for the three-day Aby Warburg 150 Conference (13–15 June), organised by The Warburg Institute, part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, that organisers had to relocate the event to a larger venue to accommodate the attendees.

The ‘Aby Warburg 150: work legacy and promise’  conference was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to hear renowned art scholars, historians and cultural theorists speak about his heritage and the implications of his work. And the institute live-streamed the event over the internet for a global audience.

Its popularity is down to the excitement still generated by the reputation of Aby Warburg (1866-1929), long regarded as a founding figure of comparative cultural history, now a truly global discipline, says Warburg’s dynamic new director, Professor David Freedberg.

Its evidence, he says, of a dramatic surge in public and scholarly interest which is helping his drive to ensure that Warburg’s vision is restored to the Institute. ‘In setting out the historical, psychological, anthropological and political dimensions of art and culture, the work of Aby Warburg underlines the continuing relevance of the humanities today,’  Professor Freedberg notes.

Among the speakers at the three-day event were well-known international figures such as philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, Horst Bredekamp, professor of art history at Berlin’s Humboldt University, W J T Mitchell, professor of English and art history at the University of Chicago, Professor Quentin Skinner (Queen Mary University), novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer, Dame Marina Warner, Lorraine Daston, director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and host, Professor David Freedberg.

Together they commemorated the 150th anniversary of Aby Warburg’s birth by discussing the implication of thought for the history of art, images and cultures. The aim was not only to illuminate the past, but to reveal the potential of his writing for the debate about contemporary cultural differences as well.

Continuing and expanding the ‘Warburgian’ project, the Warburg Institute in London is one of the premier institutions in the world for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture. From the outset it has been notable for its interdisciplinary research extending across the histories of art, science and religion to anthropology and psychology.

Its contributions have been profound and paradigm-changing. Dedicated to the study of the survival and transmission of cultural forms – whether in literature, art, music or science – across borders and from the earliest times to the present, it will attend to the psychological, anthropological, biological and political dimensions of its historical and philological researches in ever more innovative and rigorous ways.

Live streaming link:
Day 1 (Monday 13 June):

Day 2 (Tuesday 14 June):

Day 3 (Tuesday 15 June):

Germany via the internet (3 days):

Further information
The Warburg Institute is one of the great stories of rescue, immigration and renaissance. After the rise of the Nazi régime, the then Director of the Warburg library, Fritz Saxl, called on his international contacts and to arrange an invitation from an ad-hoc committee to transfer the Institute to London.

Max Warburg, the brother of the founder, Aby Warburg, agreed that an attempt should be made to move the Library. The ‘burning of the books’ by the Nazis demonstrated the urgency of taking immediate action. Since the Warburg library was partly supported by American members of the founder’s family, the United States Consul General in Berlin issued a statement to the effect that portions of the Foundation were considered U.S. property. Under the guise of a three-year loan to London, the library was moved.

With the support of Lord Lee of Fareham, Samuel Courtauld and the Warburg family, it was established as the Warburg Institute in 1934. The Institute was incorporated into the University of London in 1944. In 1958 it moved to its present building. In 1994 the Warburg Institute became a founding member of the University’s School of Advanced Study.

In 1953 Warburg’s nephew Eric recorded that ‘the physical removal of about 60,000 books, thousands of slides, photographs and furniture then followed, and on December 12th, 1933, the little steamers “Hermia” and “Jessica” with 531 boxes aboard moved slowly down the Elbe. The final scene in Hamburg was enacted in the bare elliptical Reading Room which Professor Warburg had built six or seven years earlier; here his widow offered tea, on trestles and planks, to the staunchly anti-Nazi packers who had completed the move in record time.’

Image: Melencolia 1, 1514, Albrecht Durer, public domain via Wikimedia Commons