As a direct way of challenging the dominant rationality, eccentric Aby Warburg devoted his last years to a classification that would bring together every representation of the world with its most remote —and, in many cases divine— origins.
The Mnemosyne atlas: a glimpse at the secret code of our collective memory /
What would happen if the language of the world was comprised by a handful of symbols which, iterated throughout time and geographies, somehow conformed anoccult code which is also paradoxically evident, buried as if its legibility lay over pages and pages of history, incessantly accumulating.
This can, more or less, be the image which we associate with Aby Warburg’s eccentric last project. Warburg was probably one of the most enigmatic art historians of the nineteenth century, a restless mind that at times dangerously glimpsed at the nature of the powers he studied and which, he asserted, furtively traversed the course of Western art.
The Mnemosyne was, in broad terms, an atlas where Warburg sought to define the points through which Western representation inevitable transited, from the painterly and sculptural masterpieces, to the apparently trivial figures found in magazines and everyday newspapers, categories where we can place practically any expression of the imago mundi:
1. Coordinates of memory
2. Astrology and mythology
3. Archaeological models
4. Migrations of the ancient gods
5. Vehicles of tradition
6. Irruption of antiquity
7. Dionysian formulae of emotions
8. Nike and Fortuna
9. From the Muses to Manet
10. Dürer: the gods go North
11. The age of Neptune
12. "Art officiel" and the baroque
13. Re-emergence of antiquity
14. The classical tradition today
In this sense, since 1924 and until he died in 1929, Warburg collected close to two-thousand photographs, painting reproductions and images from books and other printed formats, placing them all in accordance to their corresponding wooden panels which, nonetheless, had nothing more on them than the thematic category they belonged to, which experts believe had the purpose of enabling the viewer to receive a sudden epiphany of order in the middle of chaos.
Some years before, while he was studying a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio entitled Visita alla camera della puerpera, located in the Basilica de Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Warburg noticed that one of the represented female figures stood out from the rest because of the lightness of her dress and her hair, because she embodied the ´brise imaginaire’ an image from pagan antiquity which interrupts the canons that hoped to erase it. That woman was, according to Warburg, a Nymph, unexpectedly present in the work of the Renaissance master.
This example, previous to the projection of the Atlas Mnemosyne, perhaps bears witness to its ambitious purpose: discovering, against all dominant rationality, the possibility that they are other forces that liven our thoughts, a stimulation that according to the Greeks was one of the few forms that divinity could take in order to make itself present in this world, ‘mnemic waves’ (according to Warburg’s phrasing) that move our collective imagery since the darkest eras.Tagged: Mnemosyne atlas, Aby Warburg, Eccentricity, memory