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Special Collection

Mnemosyne

Collection launched: 31 May 2016

This special collection takes its inspiration from Mnemosyne Atlas, by the art historian and cultural theorist Aby Warburg. In 1924, Warburg began work on his monumental project and by the time of his death in 1929 it comprised 63 wooden panels on which were pinned, arranged, and re-arranged groups of black and white photographs depicting art historical and cosmographic subjects: Early Modern maps, Classical sculpture, medieval manuscript pages, paintings, coins, and clippings from contemporary newspapers and magazines. The Atlas was Warburg’s attempt to map the afterlife of Antiquity, exploring how images from the Ancient Western canon reappeared and were revivified in the art and thought of later times and places. By juxtaposing and sequencing images, Warburg was able to illuminate a new, broad historical view of recurring visual ideas, seeing them as “bewegtes leben” – images with a constantly re-animated life.

Despite the cartographic term Atlas, the function of the project was only in part geographical. Warburg was interested in the ways visual ideas changed as themes and styles moved between East and West, North and South; however, he also wanted to transform the notion of the atlas from a scientific and cartographic document into a more dynamic “thought space” [Denkraum], where metonymic and intuitive logic could play out, supported by rigorous scholarship and knowledge. The articles in this special collection were therefore invited to consider, in the spirit of Warburg’s Atlas, the use and reuse of images in art and art history, from antiquity to the present day.

Image: La galerie de l’hôtel de la rue Pierre-Charron, anonymous photograph in Samuel Rocheblave, Un grand collectionneur Alsacien, Jean Dollfus, 1823 à 1911 (public domain)

Edited by: Jack Hartnell (University of East Anglia) and Katie Faulkner (Courtauld Institute of Art)