Totentanz. Operationalizing Aby Warburg’s Atlas of images
Presidents Hall, Franklin Hall
Aby Warburg’s last and most ambitious project, the Atlas Mnemosyne – conceived in 1926 and truncated three years later by Warburg’s sudden death – consists of a series of large black panels, on which are attached black-and-white photographs of paintings, sculptures, tarot cards, stamps, coins, and other types of images. Its thousand images are unified by Warburg’s greatest conceptual creation: the idea of the Pathosformel, or formula for the expression of extreme passion. In this talk, the reflection on the Pathosformel will take the unusual form of an attempt at “operationalizing” the concept, transforming it into a series of quantitative operations. The resulting model is then used to analyze the evidence assembled by Warburg in Mnemosyne, and to gain a new understanding of how extreme emotional states are represented in painting.