Aby Warburg

Since it’s raining in Portugal, I thought I would check when it was that Aby Warburg gave the lecture that Kenneth Clark heard at the Biblioteca Hertziana (as Edward Chaney correctly said, in Rome, not Florence) which so changed his approach to art history. The answer is given in an article by Elizabeth Sears in an article in the Burlington Magazine on Clark’s correspondence with Gertrud Bing. It took place at five o’clock on Saturday 19th. January 1929 and lasted two hours. In a BBC broadcast in 1948, Clark described Warburg’s manner: ‘When he read a passage from Savonarola, one felt that one could hear the Frate’s high, thin, passionate voice ringing in the vaults of the Duomo; when he read a verse from Politian, his voice became courtly and fantastical’; and in one of his letters to Bing, he described how ‘the Warburg lecture did liberate me from the two chief influences of my youth – the ‘pure aesthetic sensation’ of Roger Fry & the attribution game’. This is presumably partly why (pace the Burlington Magazine’s current editorial), Clark’s approach to art in Civilisation was as much historical, including music, as conventionally art historical (and, equally, I don’t see why Schama’s training as a historian precludes him from having well developed critical and interpretative skills when writing, as he often has done, about art).

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