Aby Warburg’s pictorial atlas Mnemosyne : a lifelong project


Claudia Wedepohl (Warburg Institute)

Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas (pictorial atlas or atlas of images), to which he gave the short title Mnemosyne (memory), is known as the major project of his last years. At Warburg’s sudden and unexpected death on 26 October 1929 the Atlas, perhaps too unwieldy ever to have been completed, was arrested at one moment in its development. The famous 63 panels, known as the last version of Warburg’s Atlas, are today seen as an iconic work; yet many questions about its original meaning remain unanswered. In this lecture I shall address some of them by demonstrating how the concept of the Atlas is rooted in Warburg’s earlier work and why it is impossible to grasp Warburg’s intentions without a thorough understanding of the genesis of his ideas.