"La Rivista di Engramma (open access)" ISSN 1826-901X

125 | marzo 2015


A few comments on Aby Warburg’s phrase: “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft” 

Joacim Sprung*



From 1924 and until his sudden death in October 1929 the German Art- and Cultural historian Aby Moritz Warburg and his associates at the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg (K.B.W.) worked on a pictorial atlas dedicated to the Greek goddess of memory, language and remembrance: Mnemosyne. The atlas however became an opus infinitum. Warburg lost his way within his own work, and the atlas never became a published synthesis of Warburg’s scholarly achievements, despite later attempts by his associates to reconstruct and improve the atlas during the 1930-40s. The wooden frames with stretched black hessian (believed to be approx. 140 x 175 cm) [1]  on which Warburg and his assistants pinned photographs, engravings, newspaper cuttings, stamps, postcards and other material produced by the visual content industry of the time, are unfortunately lost. Only photographic traces remain of the Warburgkreis and their effort with the atlas; a work that sometimes was described by Warburg as a vital part of the hamburgian Versuchslaboratorium, or as a collection of Chips from a german workshop [sic] [2].

1 | Photograph of the original glass plates of the Letzte version (also known as the A-79series) of the Mnemosyne atlas. Photograph taken at the Warburg Institute, London, Ian Jones’ office, 2008. Photo: Joacim Sprung.

The imprecise and enigmatic clues that the glass plates and photographs, by the in-house photographers Carl Hansen, Fritz Junghans and others [3], display give an impression of an existential and cultural cartography which meant to overview the diffusion of images and ideas through the ages, as well as the psycho-historical oscillation between magic and reason, figuration and abstraction, impulse and action, pathos and orientation, and in the end – the eternal conflict between man and the cosmos. At the same time the picture atlas seems to suggest an ethical dimension: the importance of Sophrosyne, i.e. man’s quest for moderation, respite and of “thinking space” (Denkraum) that can ease but never cure man’s cultural schizophrenia and latent barbarism.

In the following it is not my intention to discuss the Mnemosyne atlas per se but rather comment on a specific heading that Aby Warburg wrote during 1925. It is common knowledge that Warburg wrote a multitude of more or less coherent and descriptive titles and headings for the different versions of atlas-project, as well as for the numerous visual exhibitions, or rather image series (Bilderreihen), held at the K.B.W. between 1910-29 [4].  Warburg jotted these down and made several variations of them in his many manuscripts and drawn lay-out plans (Dispostionschemas). Some of these titles and headings have been discussed at great length, while others have eluded scholarly attention. In the following I will direct my attention to a single heading or phrase that is frequently referred to in relation to the picture atlas; a heading that has become almost a catchphrase for the atlas in general, but it has also, to a large extent, been crudely extracted from its context to suit various theoretical references and ideological frames of the interpreters [5]. The following paper aims to situate the phrase in its context, as well as point to some of the interpretative difficulties that might arise when faced with fragmentary and scattered archive material.

The heading or catchphrase that I would like to discuss in the following is Kritik der reinen Unvernunft [Eng: A Critique of Pure Unreason]. This extracted phrase by Warburg does not immediately reveal its meaning, purpose or intent. Instead, it first seems to linger on the interpreters’ preconceived notion of Warburg’s mental breakdown in 1918. Without a doubt Warburg’s mental health is an important aspect when interpreting Warburg’s life and work in toto but too solely focus on the “art work of the insane”, or the “search for geniuses” to paraphrase the French historian Michel Foucault, is to disregard from other aspects that might be equally plausible [6]

An interesting part concerning the phrase is that, in combination with a knowledge of Warburg’s mental status, it seems to provide the Mnemosyne atlas(es) with an air of anti-rationalism, as well as of artistry and wit. A recent elaboration on this popular interpretation can be found in Emily Levine’s book Dreamland of Humanist. Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky and the Hamburg school (2014) which includes a subchapter tellingly titled The Critique of Pure Unreason. Also the phrase, on a more abstract and related layer of interpretation, seems to suggest a critique of the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant and his miniscule history of reason at the end of his first major work: Critik der reinen Vernunft (Eng: Critique of Pure Reason, 1781). Within this framework e.g. the historiographer Joseph Mali interprets Warburg as toying “[…] with the idea that out of this project might come a book to counter Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft, under the title Bilder Atlas Zur Kritik der Unvernunft.”[sic] (Mali 2003) In a more recent book by Christopher D. Johnson ( Johnson 2012) we can furthermore read that the phrase more or less implied that: “he [Warburg, JS] playfully spurns Kantian critique”. It is likely that Warburg read Kant, most scholars in Warburg’s generation did, and a couple of allusions to the philosopher exist in Warburg’s Nachlass, but if these scattered references can be considered a spurn or outspoken critique needs to be carefully analysed in depth before we write Kantian influences off. Concerning the heading Kritik der reinen Unvernunft it seems that Kant is not the primary target, as we later will see in the second part of this paper. Also it appears that the phrase is not as directly connected to the Mnemosyne project as so many secondary sources claim [7]. But let us first return to the heading itself and try to comment on it in its often quoted and isolated manner, before we explore the phrase set within its specific textual and historical context.

That Warburg possibly had the epigone habit of alluding to already published and famous tracts, texts and book titles do not necessarily have to be interpreted as an intentional reference or critique but could equally be considered to be an unintentional effect, or rather an imitative, conscious or unconscious, formula by Warburg. In the following we will briefly explore the later and leave the former’s implication regarding the reception history of Warburg for a future discussion.

2 | Vignoli, Tito, Mythus und Wissenschaft: eine Studie, Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1880. Warburg DAN 50. Photo: Joacim Sprung.     

One example of this mimetic formula, whether caused by an spontaneous remembering or conscious fascination with book collecting (material books as well as immaterial bibliographical data) can be found in Warburg’s own copy of the, at the time quite famous, Italian proto-anthropologist Tito Vignoli’s book Mythus und Wissenschaft (Mito e scienza), from 1880 (Vignoli [1879] 1880; Warburg DAN 50).  Vignoli’s book influenced Warburg profoundly in his scholarly attempt to reconcile evolutionary biology and culture into a broader outlook that would illuminate human response and expression [8].  Alongside the title page, in Warburg’s copy of Vignoli’s book, there is printed a bibliographical selection from the German publishing house Brockhaus Verlag. In the account of available books there are a lot of interesting titles that more or less correspond to the content and topic of Vignoli’s book, and several of the titles are quite tellingly underlined or otherwise marked with lead pencil by Warburg himself. Among these more or less cryptic annotations one book title stands out from the rest, and makes me quite curious, at least according to my assumption regarding an imitative formula on Warburg’s part. The book in question is Bruchstücke aus der Theorie der Bildenden Künste (1877) (Warburg CAO 350) by the now long forgotten German physician and physiologist Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke (1819-1892). This lesser work by von Brücke, who was one of the most famous scientists of his day and professor to Sigmund Freud, concerns the genesis of art and human muscular response. The scientist, the book, or maybe just the title, must have interested Warburg because it was not just underlined but bought and incorporated into Warburg’s, at the time quite small, private library in Hamburg.

The underlined book by von Brücke fascinates me because it loosely corresponds - or can be considered a variant, a literary relative, of some sort - to the title of the project that Warburg planned to become one of his major theoretical achievements: Grundlegende Bruchstücke zu einer pragmatischen Ausdruckskunde [9].  The project would, according to Warburg, become his magnum opus and synthesis of his work on reconciling Darwinian evolutionary biology and art history into an expanded Kulturwissenschaft, but not unlike so many other projects planned by Warburg it failed. It never became published and only a rough and fairly incomprehensible compilation of fragments exist in both index- and manuscript form.

Another telling example of this formula of conscious or unconscious recollecting, emulating or alluding to other scholarly works is Warburg’s late manuscript in two volumes that was intended to be incorporated into the text volumes of the Mnemosyne atlas. The title of these two manuscripts, Mnemosyne Grundbegriffe I-II from 1928-29 [10], reminds us of the Swiss Art historian Heinrich Wölfflin’s Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Das Problem der Stilentwicklung in der neueren Kunst from 1915. Even if it on one layer of interpretation seems to exist an antagonistic relationship between Wölfflin and Warburg from a general art historiographical point of view, Warburg was not entirely amiss with Wölfflin’s positions on style, development of art or his attempt to construct a formal and comparative methodology for the analysis of art [11].  Both where, according to Warburg, art historians of the more systematic and “scientific” type (Warburg [1903] 2010, please see p. 676), and in Warburg’s diligent annotations of Wölfflin’s, early works, it seems that he approved with many of Wölfflin’s postulations on Renaissance and Baroque art [12].  Also Wölfflin tried to make Art history into a more scientific field of study by finding elementary concepts (Grundbegriffe) and a law bound structure that would ground Art history as a Wissenschaft. Warburg evidently tried the same with much less success.

The occurrence of Warburg’s formula of emulating, or collection of titles can be exemplified in legio. Zettelkasten after Zettelkasten (Warburg’s archive and index boxes) are filled with references and book titles that seems to follow this formula, making it into a bibliographical universe or a network of Benjaminian correspondences. It is, however, difficult to draw any concrete and plausible conclusions about the weight and importance of the above observations in relation to Warburg’s academic achievement in general. Instead of speculating on these matters further I will in the following try another approach. An approach that attempts to contextualize the phrase and connect, or rather frame, it to other archival sources that might elucidate why, when and how the phrase was uttered.

Kritik der reinen Unvernunft figures quite often in the secondary literature as Kantian critique, as a decontextualized title of the last version [Letzte version or the A-79series] [13] of the Mnemosyne atlas or as a summarizing metaphor for the atlas project in general. But Warburg never actually wrote it as an isolated singular phrase, or as a totalizing catch phrase for the Mnemosyne-project. To my knowledge the phrase was first written down on the 19th of March in 1925 in a letter to his assistants Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing [14].  The letter mentions, among other things, Warburg’s conversation with the publisher Alfred Giesecke (partner at the Teubner Verlag in Leipzig) at the K.B.W. later that week. Warburg wrote that he explained the essence of, the renowned German historian of astrology and astronomy, Franz Boll’s Sphaera: Neue griechische Texte und untersuchungen zur geschichte der Sternbilder  (Boll 1903; Warburg FAK 60) to Giesecke, probably in order to plan, or get Teubner Verlag to reissue Boll’s seminal book during 1926. It is in this context, together with Warburg’s interest in astrology and superstition, that that we find the phrase up for discussion. Warburg characterizes the book by Boll as a phenomenal collection of documents in word and image regarding the history and psychology of the orientation of the mind, and as important source material for a critique of pure unreason (Kritik der reinen Unvernunft). More than three years later we find the same phrase, and in the same astrological context, written down in the Hamburgian library’s research diary, the Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (TBKBW): 

3 | “Deutsche Museum”, 1927-28/Mock-exhibition. Source: Opere II, CD. Images of the exhibition can also be examined in GS II.2, 2012, 191-233. For archival sources: WIA III. 100.3, Outline of the exhibition plan with descriptions of the projected 20 plates; WIA III. *100.3.3, Mock exhibition in KBW, 13/09/1928, for the visit of Oskar von Miller (Deutsches Museum, München). Original individual plates formerly in the Warburg Institute Photographic Collection, outsize drawers, was identified by Archivist Dr. Claudia Wedepohl. Plates were removed to the Warburg Institute Archive in 2009-10.

Eine bildgeschichtliche Voruntersuchung
zu einer Technologik der seelischen
oder: "Kritik der reinen Unvernunft”
als technischer Positivismus

bildgeschichtliche Studie
über die Technologie / Technik
im Kosmos.
10/September 927 (GS VII, Bd3 1927, 144)

At the time of the entry Warburg and his assistants at the K.B.W. was engaged with the Panultimate version [1-68version] of the Mnemosyne atlas but the note in question do not refer to this particular version of the atlas project. The notation in the TBKBW refer instead to Saxl and Warburg’s labour with the astrology exhibition that the K.B.W. was preparing for the Deutsche Museum in Munich 1927-1928 under the supervision of Director Oscar von Miller [15].  Warburg and Saxl’s work was never realized in Munich. Instead many of the planned mobile walls and their visual material were incorporated into the posthumous exhibition Bildersammlung zur Geschichte von Sternglaube und Sternkunde (1930-1941) at the planetarium in the former water tower in Hamburg (Warburg 1993; GS. II.2, 2012, 389-461).

In the entries directly following the note discussed above we find additional and quite brief descriptions of headings and legends that would constitute the planned exhibition panels on the intricate history of astrology and astronomy:

Bis morgen muß ich die General-
Überschriften haben: 1.)
Menschengleichnis am Himmel 2.)
Himmelsgleichnis am Menschen ►
Warburg auf Menschentum bezogen 3.)
Sterngemässes Staats- und Privatleben in
China 5.) Babylonische ► Warburg
weissagende ◄ Sterndeutung 4.)
Ägyptischer Sternglaube 6.) (GS VII, Bd3 1927, 144)

That the journal entry is indeed linked to the astrology exhibition(s) can be discerned in the photographic documentation preserving the visual and curatorial drafts of the exhibition screens. Furthermore, Warburg even composed more headings for the exhibition’s panels the day after:

Menschengleichnis am Himmel.
Sternbildgestaltung als seelische
Orientierungstechnik des Europaers [sic]
in den Jahrhunderten
seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den
Kosmologien des Ostens. (GS VII, Bd3 1927, 144)

The entries are fully consistent with the headings in the preserved and documented picture panels or mobile walls for the planned exhibit(s). “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft” in TBKBW can therefore be attributed to the so called ‘Deutsche Museum exhibitions’ and/or the ‘Mock-Exhibition’ of 1927-28, and not to the Mnemosyne atlas. 

4 | Aby Warburg to Ernst Cassirer, 2nd of December 1928, Typescript 2p, p.1. Source: Cassirer, Ernst, 4 | 4 | Nachgelassene Manuskripte und Texte. Band 18: Briefwechsel. DVD-ROM Edition, Hamburg: Ferlix Meiner Verlag, 2009, DVD, Letter No. 562. See also WIA GC/19962 Warburg to Ernst Cassirer, 2nd of December 1928.

Later in 1928 the heading under discussion reappears in a letter from Aby Warburg to the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer. The letter was written in December while Warburg was in Rome, preparing himself for his famous Hertziana-lecture on Ghirlandaio (WIA III. 115), as well as putting together the so called ‘Rome atlas’ from February 1929 (see Sprung 2011).  In the letter we can read the following:

Das ist sachlich genommen auch insofern
der Fall, als die Bearbeitung meines
bildgeschichtlichen Materials
in einer Weise, wie ich es selbst nicht
einmal hoffen durfte, mir [die] aufgabe
[sic] stellt, mich mit der
Philosophie der Hochrenaissance auseinander zu setzen.
Der Mann, dessen Schwergewicht mir eben
hier aufgeht ist Giordano Bruno. Seine
Erkenntniskritik, die sich hinter dem
Symbol eines Feldzuges der Götter gegen
die Himmeldämonen verbirgt, ist doch
Wahrheit eine Kritik der reinen
Unvernunft, die ich unmittelbar in
 geschichtlichen Zusammenhang bringen
kann mit meinem psychologischen
Bildmaterial (‘Harmonie der Spaeren
1589’). Dies nur Ihnen zu vermelden, dass
ich auch in Rom gute Nachbarschaft mit
Ihnen pflege. [16]

The excerpt from Warburg’s letter to Cassirer suggests that the “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft” in this context refers to the Dominican friar and philosopher Giordano Bruno’s criticism of the theological and hermetic worldview of his time, and his excessive use of images and symbols, than to Kant’s first critique (Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781). The letter further provides us with a detailed, but brief description, why Warburg was interested in Bruno during his last visit in Italy during the autumn-winter 1928-29. Warburg and Bing had the hopes of finding the “missing-link” they desperately needed to join the two main themes (orientation and pathos) of Warburg’s scholarship regarding Nachleben der Antike (Eng.: The survival of Antiquity) into a comprehensible synthesis, and finally into a picture atlas. Cassirer probably influenced Warburg towards the Nolan philosopher sometime during 1925-26, and in a letter dated in December 1928 Cassirer acknowledged that Warburg was probably the best scholar suited to interpret Giordano Bruno’s imagery and criticism in a broader context [17].  Warburg also became during the autumn of 1928 more and more convinced that Bruno would constitute the missing link that would complete his scholarly quest with the Mnemosyne-atlas. 

Even though our previous discussion on the clash between astrology and astronomy, as well as Bruno’s visual imagination and his concept of infinity, it appears however that the phrase in question can be linked to what ultimately became the Letzte version of the Mnemosyne atlas (A-79series), but only in an indirect manner. This is due to the fact that the themes of orientation and Pathosformel seems to have been first incorporated into the atlas in May 1929 in roughly the same way as they was fused together in the exhibition, Geburtstagsparade, constructed in honour of Max Warburg almost two years earlier [18]. That this seems plausible can be noted in another of Warburg’s manuscripts, concerning diffusion and Pathosformel, that was intended to be integrated into one of the two planned text volumes of the picture atlas. The manuscript is probably from the first half of 1929 and is labelled Grisaille in the WIA archive catalogue:

Zur [fu[n]ktion] derOrtsanweisend
Kritik zukünftige XXXXXX [Non-readable, JS]
gegenwärtig Umfang als reinen Unvernunft
Ueber die Funktion der bildhaften
Ursachensetzung im
Geschäfte der Orientierung. (WIA III. [fol.8]) 

 Warburg’s attempt to formulate a suitable title for the picture atlas is coupled with a variant of the discussed phrase. The fragment suggests that it is roughly at this time that the Mnemosyne atlas was given its final combinational form of the two main themes that preoccupied Warburg’s scholarly life: orientation and pathos. The combinational form may be one of the causes why the whole atlas project capsized. The themes had earlier been exhibited and researched isolated from each other in articles and in various exhibitions, i.e. Deutsche Museum, Ovid-Austellung, Besuch Rothacker. The level of clarity and coherence of Warburg’s project can, from a retrospective point of view, be interpreted to be much higher in these isolated image series and in his published articles. In the combinational form the two themes of how Man cope with the outer- (orientation) and inner (pathos) world became much more conflicted, confounded and incoherent, despite Warburg’s ambition to find the common single and law bound root of the two themes. This effect might be one of the reasons why the K.B.W. had so much trouble of uniting the Mnemosyne atlas into a coherent and synthesized structure that “would turn many heads in the scholarly community of Germany”(WIA GC/22193). 

To conclude my short commentary I propose that the phrasing “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft” seems to imply a specific theme or chapter concerning the epistemological and visual shifts within the Neuzeit, especially concerning the Nachleben of astrology and superstition, than to designate a Kantian critique or the Mnemosyne atlas in toto. Our few and preliminary comments above hence illustrate the importance of more thorough philological work and contextual framings in order to bring sense to Warburg’s scholarly estate, and not solely rely on older information or speculations circulating in the secondary literature. A framing that in the future might help us to correct the often perfunctory view of Warburg’s work as being a part of an anti-rationalistic trend within modernity. Rather, Warburg’s writing and academic achievements might be better described as a temperate rationalism that was acutely aware of the conflict between reason and unreason, and the often affective, and not so rational, dimension of images, texts, and human culture. In this respect Warburg’s oeuvre, and the Mnemosyne atlas in particular, can be considered to be a central part of a specific Hamburgian thought collective (Denkkollektive) (Fleck 1980), or a Weimar Kulturphilosophie, that became exceedingly critical of the Neo-Kantian and Hegelian one sided emphasis on crystalline reason and logic, and instead shifted focus to conscious and unconscious symbols and symbolism for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of man, culture and history [19].  

*The following text is an elaborated English translation of the appendix (written in Swedish) “Anmärkningar angående “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft”, in Sprung, Joacim, Bildatlas, åskådning och reproduktion. Aby Warburgs Mnemosyne-atlas och visualiseringen av konsthistoria kring 1800/1900, Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2011, 185-188. The purpose of the appendix was to elaborate some of the archival and methodological perspectives that I made in the already mentioned dissertation. I would also like to thank Novo Nordisk Foundation for financial aid and support.


[1] Per Rumberg has recently discussed the physical dimensions of the panels or mobile walls that were used for the Mnemosyne atlas. His unverified measurements suggest that the panels where slightly smaller (approximately 150 x 120 cm) than the well-known measurements calculated by Rappl et al. Please see Rumberg, Per, Aby Warburg and the Anatomy of Art History, in Constanza Caraffa (Ed.), Photo Archives and the Photographic Memory of Art History, Berlin 2011, 242; Rappl et al (ed.), Mnemosyne Materialen, Hamburg: München 2006, 4.

[2] WIA III 115.3.4,”Ghirlandaio”, Warburg and Bing’s MS notes, Jan.-April 1929, 27 fols., [fol. 14].

[3] For a discussion on the photographers employed at the Kulturwisenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg and that actually documented the various stages of the work with the Mnemosyne atlas, please see Sprung 2011, 143-148; Schäfer 2003.

[4] Please see: Mazzucco, Katia, Il Progetto Mnemosyne di Aby Warburg, Tesi di dottorato in Innovazione e tradizione – Eredità dell’antico nel moderno e nel contemporaneo (XVII ciclo), Siena: Università degli Studi di Siena, Facolta di Lettere e Filosofia, Dipartimento di Studi Classici, Unpubl. Diss., TS, 19 June 2006, 289p, and Abbreviated in the following as GS. II.2.

[5] A very recent example of such a crude ‘cropping’ is Emily Levine’s remark that the phrase “[…] even considered naming his atlas “The Critique of Pure Unreason” (Kritik der reinen Unvernunft)”; Levine 2014, 117. The above quote is part of a whole subsection interestingly titled: The Critique of Pure Unreason. Furthermore Levine’s reference is to a note in Warburg, Aby, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VII, Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, Berlin 2001, Bd3, 1927, 144, and as we later will show, or rather point out, this reference is not directly concerned with the Mnemosyne-atlas. Abbreviated in the following as GS. VII.

[6]This implies that many interpretations of Warburg’s work becomes trapped in a search for reason in the mad and that we have found the mad persons validity in the arts and only in the arts. See Foucault [1961] 2006, 289.

[7] Most recently this opinion can be found in Levine 2014, 117; Johnson 2012, 28. For earlier references to the same kind of interpretation, please see e.g.: Mali 2003, 181; Rappl 1993, 365; Bäcklund 1999, 156; Imbert 2003, 34.

[8] Please see among others: Gombrich 1986 (1970); Carchia 1984, 92-108; Böhme 1997, 133-157; Schindler 2000; Rampley 2001, 303-324; Canadelli 2013, 205-218. For Warburg’s own remarks and notes concerning Vignoli, please see: Warburg 2011, 23-179, see also footnote 14 for archival reference to the MS version. Warburg’s own copy of Vignoli’s book with underlining’s and notes in the margins can be consulted at the Warburg Library, please see footnote 11.

[9] WIA III. 43.1 Grundlegende Bruchstücke zu einer pragmatischen Ausdruckskunde (1888-1903) or the original version, in indexical form, of the Grundlegende Bruchstücke in WIA III.2.1. ZK/[23].

[10] WIA III. 102.3.3, TS of MS 102.3.1 Mnemosyne Grundbegriffe I (1928-1929), [148 fols], 84p, and: WIA III. 102.4.2 TS of MS 102.4.1 Mnemosyne Grundbegriffe II (1/7/1929).

[11] For a general historiographiv view please see: Kultermann [1981] 1966, Podro [1982] 1983, 374-375. The main source of this general conception within Warburg scholarship seems to be Edgar Wind’s analysis of Warburg’s methodology, please see: Wind 1983, 21-35, especially page 23. For a more nuanced interpretation: Warnke 1991, 79-86.

[12] WIA III., TS of part of Warburg’a annotations in H. Wöllflin “Renaissance und Barock”, 1888, MS, WIA III., 3 fol. These annotations are also copied in the ‘Bruckstüche’, please see Warburg 2011. 

[13] In the following we will simultaneously use the traditional nomenclature regarding the different versions of the Mnemosyne-atlas, as well as the Italian Warburg scholar Katia Mazzucco’s terms in Mazzucco 2006. The traditional nomenclature that was set by Warburg, Gertrud Bing and Fritz Saxl, jointly it seems, is discussed in Huisstede 1992.

[14] WIA GC/30135, Warburg, Aby to Saxl, Fritz, Bing, Gertrud and Hertz, Clara, 19/03/1925.

[15] The Warburg Institute Archive designation for this, or rather these, planned exhibitions are ‘Deutsche Museum’ and/or ‘The Mock Exhibition’. In GS II.2 they are designated by Uwe Fleckner and Isabella Woldt solely as ‘Menschengleichnis am Himmel’, 1927, please see GS. II.2, 2012,191-233. In the following I will use the designations found in the archive catalogue.

[16] Aby Warburg to Ernst Cassirer, 2nd of December, 1928, Typescript 2p, p.1, in Cassirer 2009, Letter No. 562. Also quoted in Ghelardi 2008,19. Ghelardi refers to WIA GC/19962 Aby Warburg to Ernst Cassirer, 2 december 1928; without direct reference to the Archive database.

[17] WIA GC/30530, Cassirer to Warburg, 29 December 1928. The relevant transcription of the passage can be found in Ghelardi 2008, 167, see also 73-74 for the whole letter.

[18] ‘Geburtagsparade’ is the archive designation. In GS II.2, 2012, 115-133, the exhibition in question is titled as Die Funktion der nachlebenden Antike bei der Ausprägung energetischer Symbolik, 3-6 June 1927.

[19] For the Weimar intellectual climate, Kulturphilosophie and its criticism of reason as the sole criteria for philosophy, history and culture please see: Krois 2013, 101-114.

Works Cited 
  • WIA: Warburg Institute Archive, London, UK
  • WIA, GC: General Correspondance
  • GS. II.2: Aby Warburg, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II.2 Bilderreihen und Austellungen, Berlin 2012
  • GS. VII: Aby Warburg, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VII, Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, Berlin 2001
  • K.B.W.: Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg
  • TBKBW: Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg 
Archival sources
  • WIA III. Warburg’s papers
  • WIA III. 2.1, Zettelkasten
  • WIA III.2.1. ZK/[23] Aesthetik.
  • WIA III. 43, Grundlegende Bruchstücke zu einer pragmatischen Ausdruckskunde (Monistischen Kunstpsychologie), 1888-1895, 1901
    WIA III. 43.1 Grundlegende Bruchstücke zu einer pragmatischen Ausdruckskunde (1888-1903).
  • WIA III. 57.2.9, Wöllflin
    WIA III., MS of part of Warburg’a annotations in H. Wöllflin “Renaissance und Barock”, 1888. [3 fols].
    WIA III., TS of part of Warburg’a annotations in H. Wöllflin “Renaissance und Barock”, 1888.
  • WIA III. 100, Kosmologie: ‘Deutsches Museum‘, Munich 1927
    WIA III. 100.3, Outline of the exhibition plan with descriptions of the projected 20 plates;
    WIA III. *100.3.3, Mock exhibition in KBW, 13/09/1928, for the visit of Oskar von Miller.
  • WIA III. 102, Mnemosyne I, (1927-29)
    WIA III. 102.3.3, TS of MS 102.3.1 Mnemosyne Grundbegriffe I (1928-1929), [148 fols].
    WIA III. 102.4.2 TS of MS 102.4.1 Mnemosyne Grundbegriffe II (1/7/1929).
  • WIA III. 115, Lecture, Bibliotheca Hertziana, 1929, ‘Die Römische Antike in der Werkstatt Ghirlandajos, Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, 19/01/1929.
    WIA III. 115, Lecture, Bibliotheca Hertziana, 1929, ‘Die Römische Antike in der Werkstatt Ghirlandajos, Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, 19/01/1929.
    WIA III 115.3.4,”Ghirlandaio”, Warburg and Bing’s MS notes, Jan.-April 1929, 27 fols.
  • WIA, GC: General Correspondance
    WIA GC/30135, Warburg, Aby to Saxl, Fritz, Bing, Gertrud and Hertz, Clara, 19/03/1925.
    WIA GC/22193, Fritz Saxl to Aby Warburg, 26 May 1928.
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Warburg wrote a multitude of more or less coherent and descriptive titles and headings for the different versions of atlas-project. The following paper aims to situate the phrase 'Kritik der reinen Unvernunft' [Eng: A Critique of Pure Unreason] in its context, as well as point to some of the interpretative difficulties that might arise when faced with fragmentary and scattered archive material.

keywords | Warburg; Mnemosyne Atlas; Heading; Critique of Pure Unreason.


Per citare questo articolo / To cite this article: J. Sprung, A few comments on Aby Warburg’s phrase: “Kritik der reinen Unvernunft”, “La Rivista di Engramma” n. 125, marzo 2015, pp. 80-98 | PDF of the article 

doi: https://doi.org/10.25432/1826-901X/2015.125.0001