Last night I went to a seminar/discussion on the life and work of Ernst Gombrich, the Director of the Warburg Institute from 1959 to 1972, by his two grandchildren, Leonie, who looks after his literary estate, and Carl, who is himself an interdisciplinary historian crossing the boundaries of the arts and sciences.
Two things stick in my mind. The first was Gombrich’s determination not to be described as an art historian, but as a historian tout court. This was a Warburg tradition, the belief that art was only one part of a broader cultural tradition; and he was certainly not, in any way, a connoisseur, the dominant characteristic of art history in the 1950s.
The second was his determination not to be regarded as a refugee, having arrived in London in 1936 of his own volition before the anschluss to join the staff of the Warburg Institute as a research assistant, working on Warburg’s papers, which led ultimately to the publication of Gombrich’s intellectual biography of Warburg, written in spite of Gombrich’s own dislike of biography as a genre.