The Warburg Institute is a research institution associated with the University of London in central London, England. A member of the School of Advanced Study, its focus is the study of the influence of classical antiquity on all aspects of European civilisation.
The Institute was founded by Aby Warburg (1866–1929), a student of Renaissance art and culture. The art historian Warburg became dissatisfied with an aestheticising approach to art history and was interested in a more philosophical and an interdisciplinary approach. While studying the culture of Renaissance Florence, he grew interested in the influence of antiquity on modern culture and the study of this second life of the Classical World became his life work. His enormous private library was built around this question. A member of the wealthy Warburg family, Aby was able to privately fund the development of the institute.
Warburg was joined by the Vienna art historian Fritz Saxl (1890–1948), who transformed Warburg's collection into a scholarly institution, the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, later affiliated to the University of Hamburg. Neo-Kantian Philosopher and professor at the newly founded University Ernst Cassirer used it, and his students Erwin Panofsky and Edgar Wind worked there. In 1933, under the shadow of Nazism, the institute was relocated to London. In 1944 it became associated with the University of London, and in 1994 it became a founding institute of the University of London's School of Advanced Study.
The Institute occupies a large building in the University of London's Bloomsbury campus in the central London Borough of Camden. Built in 1957, and adjacent to the University of London Student Union, Birkbeck College, School of Oriental and African Studies, and Christ the King Church, the building is also the home of the studio of the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London.
The Warburg Institute maintains a research library of more than 350,000 volumes. These volumes, except for a small number of rare and valuable books, are kept on open shelves and are accessible to all. The Institute also holds a large photographic collection and the personal archives of Aby Warburg. The Institute is notable for its unusual and unique reference system: the Institute's collection is arranged by subject according to Warburg's division of human history into the categories of Action, Orientation, Word, and Image. The photographic collection holds the valuable archive of the Image of the Black in Western Art.
In addition to its primary purpose as an academic reference library, the Institute accepts a small number of graduate students each year. The Institute awards the degrees of Master of Arts in Cultural and Intellectual History (1300-1650), Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy; the former is a one-year degree with taught and research components, the MPhil is a two-year research degree which would usually be expected to lead onto a PhD with further study, and the latter is a three-year research degree.
The emphasis of these programs is on developing interpretative skills in a number of different academic subjects, which follows from the Institute's interdiscplinary mission. Considerable attention is devoted to improving language skills and knowledge of primary sources; the Institute believes that these areas are unjustly neglected by aspiring academics in order to focus on secondary scholarship and critical theory. The MA program is one of the few non-Classics graduate programs in the United Kingdom which requires fluency in Latin.
Students and faculty
Scholars associated with the Warburg Institute include Ernst Cassirer, Rudolf Wittkower, Otto Kurz, Henri Frankfort, Arnaldo Momigliano, Ernst Gombrich, Erwin Panofsky, Edgar Wind, Frances Yates, D. P. Walker, Michael Baxandall and Anthony Grafton. The current group of scholars continues the Institute's tradition of interdisciplinary research into history, philosophy, religion, and art. The permanent staff includes a number of academics and graduate students who hold short and long-term fellowships. Due to the small number of staff, students, and regular users, the Institute prides itself on a friendly and informal teaching and research atmosphere.