Aby Warburgh’s enduring influence



A New Book Traces the Visual Symbolism of the Zodiac Throughout Art History


Art theorist, intellectual historian, and cultural scientist Aby M. Warburg mused: Was bedeutet es, sich im raum zu orientieren?, a physical and spiritual mouthful which roughly translates as, “What does it mean to orient oneself in space?”

In pondering this question, one may look to Warburg’s wildly ambitious and, sadly, unfinished last project, the Mnemosyne Atlas, a metaphoric mood board comprised of a constellation of symbolic images, created to stimulate the viewer’s memory, imagination, and understanding of what Warburg called “the afterlife of antiquity.” Through these cosmographic and art-historical images (or his “thought space”), Warburg attempts to illuminate how fundamental visual motifs pass from one culture to another over time.


On the subject of space in a more literal sense, Warburg was keenly interested in astrological motifs as pictorial forms that guide and influence humanity in its quest to orientate itself in the cosmos. It was during his speech at the 10th International Congress of Art History held in Rome in 1912 that he shared a critical interpretation of the mysterious frescoes that had been uncovered in the early 19th century in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. He saw astrology as representing “an important development on the road to human enlightenment,”

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Barry William Hale


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