"God is in the details" is one of the maxims that Aby Warburg, the founder of the Warburg Library for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KBW), likes to use to characterize the method, also and especially beyond the scope of Warburg research.

Warburg himself saw this as one of the guiding principles for what the participants in his seminar on “The Significance of Antiquity for the Stylistic Change in Italian Art of the Early Renaissance” in the winter semester of 1925/26 could expect from the KBW and him, and referred to “the example of great German philologists, especially Useners".

This can be read in a letter from January 1926 to his brother Max, the banker and financier of the foundation, to whom he reported regularly and in detail about his own research and institute projects.

However, the path of the detail to this divine rank was lengthy and rocky.

Nearly three decades earlier, during archival research in Paris on festivals in France, from which the lecture on “Medicean Festivities at the Court of the Valois” later emerged, Warburg admitted to his future wife, Mary Hertz, how “terribly difficult” it was, “all those little ones "To have details fresh in the memory" "that one must have presently in order to identify drawings and descriptions".

It is about a central motif of his working method, the identification of historical persons and events, mythical figures, symbols, objects, rituals in works of art history "by using letters, certificates, medals, all kinds of contemporary documents".

So the statement in 1902 to the publisher,

who prints his illustrated book “Portrait Art and Florentine Bourgeoisie”.

In it, Warburg names members of the Medici family, whom he recognized in the staff of Ghirlandajo's fresco in Santa Trinità.

Such discoveries come from the archives.

There, however, that "tristesse florentine" prevails, as he complained to a colleague at the same time: when "in cheerful fullness of life the dead [rise] before us, hunted, driven and formed by passionate life: but we sit in front of their accounts and testaments , [.


.] half as a vulture, half as a prophet.” The fruits of this “Hades mood in the archive” form the material fundus for the knowledge of iconological and symbolic correspondences between antiquity and early Renaissance, from which his psycho-historical interpretation of ancient pathos formulas in the pictures of the most diverse genres , cultures and times grown up.

His attitude becomes more confident and his rhetoric more affable

The genesis of Warburg's working methods, theses and idiosyncratic formulations can be traced in detail by reading his letters, which are now available in a two-volume, excellently annotated edition as part of the study edition of his "Collected Writings", which began in 1998.

The selection of more than eight hundred letters - from the student years to Warburg's death in October 1929 - is accompanied by an equally voluminous commentary, which lists the people, works of art, objects, book titles, symbols, events and lectures mentioned in the letters - and publication projects of Warburg, supplemented by reproductions of the pictures in question.

It takes a stable table or strong wrists to study these weighty volumes.

But it's worth