Warburg, Aby

(1866-1929)
   cultural historian; employed his family's banking fortune to amass a superb library of art history. Born the eldest of seven children to the Hamburg banker Moritz Warburg, he was raised in an orthodox Jewish home. Although he broke with Judaism, he never embraced Christianity and remained proud of his heritage. A student of art history, he took a doctorate (writing on Botticelli) in 1891.
   At age thirteen Warburg rebuffed the world of finance and contracted a pact with his younger brother whereby, in exchange for Aby s birthright to the family firm, Max Warburg* would purchase any book he ever wanted. For Aby, schol-arship was the one means to rationality in a complex and irrational environment. His interest centered on how an art object reflected its cultural surroundings. Although he was little known for his writings (he published only a few essays), his erudition was nonetheless dazzling; for example, he established the intellec-tual link between Renaissance Florence and Flanders. In 1902, after several years in Italy, he began building his library in earnest. Having amassed 15,000 volumes by 1911, he enlisted Fritz Saxl as his personal librarian. Since he was increasingly tormented by mental illness in his last two decades, Saxl s impor-tance to the library grew. Warburg was additionally so committed to founding a university in Hamburg that in 1911 he rejected a university chair at Halle. Soon after the University of Hamburg was opened in 1919, his library was attached to the institution (in a sanatorium at the time, Warburg was named honorary professor in 1921). Thereafter, Ernst Cassirer* and Erwin Panofsky* became his well-known collaborators. In 1926 the university dedicated the War-burg Library of Cultural Science. In his last years, between lengthy trips to Italy, Warburg evolved into a revered lecturer and one of Hamburg's public figures.
   Philosophically, Warburg believed that the principle of order governing so-ciety, the rationality that explains the apparently irrational, is embodied in clas-sical thought and culture. Although he was professedly unpolitical, he worried that reason could at any time succumb to the irrational (he rebuffed the idea of progress). His anxiety, magnified by World War I, was one cause of his mental collapse in 1918. The dualism between reason and the dark side of the psyche also sustained his interest in astrology and symbols. The irrational could only be exorcised by comprehending it rationally—thus his commitment to scholar-ship. His library, numbering 80,000 volumes, survived the book burning of May 1933 and was transferred to London as the Warburg Institute.
   REFERENCES:Chernow, Warburgs; Ferretti, Cassirer, Panofsky, and Warburg; Peter Gay, Freud, Jews, and Other Germans; Felix Gilbert, "From Art History"; Gombrich, Aby Warburg; Podro, Critical Historians ofArt.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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  • Aby Warburg — Abraham Moritz Warburg, known as Aby Warburg, (Hamburg, June 13, 1866 – Hamburg, October 26, 1929) was an art historian and cultural theorist who founded the Warburg Institute. The subject of his research was the legacy of the Classical world in… …   Wikipedia

  • Warburg — noun 1. German art historian (1866 1929) • Syn: ↑Aby Warburg, ↑Aby Moritz Warburg • Instance Hypernyms: ↑art historian 2. German biochemist who pioneered the use of chemical techniques in biological investigations; noted for studies of cellular… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Aby Moritz Warburg — noun German art historian (1866 1929) • Syn: ↑Warburg, ↑Aby Warburg • Instance Hypernyms: ↑art historian …   Useful english dictionary

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