Obsessed by Art by Francesca Cernia Slovin Book Summary:
Aby Warburg (1896-1929) was the scion of M. M. Warburg & CO the German Jewish banking empire. At thirteen, he made a pact with the youngest brother, by which he granted his birthright in exchange for the promise that the sibling would purchase for him every book he would desire. It is thus that the famous Warburg Library was born. During a long trip in Italy, as a young man, Warburg falls in love with Italian Renaissance and starts to accumulate all related texts. Once back home, in Hamburg, he further develops the nucleus of the library with volumes concerning unique and original disciplines, from Magic to Astrology, from Alchemy to Primitive Civilizations. Placed in a newly built, perfectly round library Warburg organizes the order of the volumes following his theory of "migration of symbols". Thanks to this visionary and revolutionary approach, the History of Art acquires a new dimension and a new tool of interpretation, through what would ultimately be called Iconology. With the explosion of the First World War, Warburg's mental equilibrium collapses and he is hospitalized in a Swiss psychiatric institution where he will remain for more than ten years. It is from here, that the fascinating narrative of Francesca Cernia Slovin starts, looking back at Aby's life in a compelling reconstruction as a flash back. The second part of the book continues when Warburg's disciple, Fritz Saxl, takes his place as director of what had become the famous Warburg Institute. After Aby's death, with the rise of Hitler, the Nazis threaten to burn down the library. On the night of December 12, 1933, with the help of a few assistants, Saxl with an heroic effort transported the entire library of over a hundred thousand volumes onto two small steamships and flees to London. Thanks to these few brave men and the hospitality of Lord Courtauld, today the Warburg Institute is a holy place of pilgrimage for every Art historian. With more than three hundred thousand titles and two hundred thousand periodicals the library contains forty percent of items missing at the British Library.