Around 1400, manuscripts were not just a textual medium for humanists to disseminate their substantive work. Rather, as aesthetic artefacts, they were a tool for visual communication too. Information and knowledge were portrayed in text as well as images because the beneficial learning aid of graphic presentations regained popularity. According to Aristotle, Plato, Quintilian, and other ancient authors, the human memory was predominantly influenced by visual stimuli and was thus dependent to a considerable degree on spatial arrangements in the form of images. Maps thus found their way into humanistic books as an elaboration on the text. But these maps do not just function as visualizations; they create a narrative of their own. In particular, isolarii, or ‘island books’, used the different characteristics of text and maps to shape an alternative history.
Continue reading Studia humanitatis in Text and Image: The Liber insularum Archipelagi by Cristoforo Buondelmonti
Eduard Zander (1813–68), from Saxony-Anhalt, combined the roles of painter and draughtsman, architect and artisan, ethnographer and assistant to the German botanist Georg Wilhelm Schimper in one person. What is left of the artist’s output consists to a large degree of drawings in a naturalistic style made in the mid nineteenth century in Ethiopia. Nothing comparable is known by Ethiopian artists of the time. From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards, European travellers sketched landscapes, spectacular sites like the stelae park in Aksum with its monumental, almost 2,000-year-old obelisks, the country’s eleven thirteenth-century monolithic rock churches in Lalibäla, the palaces in Gondär, and impressive ranges such as the Simän Mountains. Little by little, European explorers drew the life around them, important events like receptions by local dignitaries, and picturesque scenes such as a slave market.
Continue reading Eduard Zander in Ethiopia, 1847–68
The Studies is a collection of articles I originally published in German, Italian and French as the first Archivist of the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London, turned into chapters. I catalogued the entire correspondence of Aby Warburg (1866–1929) held by the archive, some 37,000 letters and postcards dating from the 1880s to Warburg’s death in 1929. As an expert in German palaeography and in intellectual history, I set up a database of the Warburg Institute’s large archival holdings. Having worked on other large collections, notably the Gustav Klimt / Emilie Flöge correspondence, large holdings of records of Jewish sthetls, and Austrian archival material from Egypt, the collection in the Warburg Institute allowed for an in-depth examination and understanding of Aby Warburg, Director of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg and his two librarians, Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing. Saxl and Bing were instrumental in transferring the entire library to London in 1933, and became directors of the newly established Warburg Institute there and developing it into one of the world’s leading centres of intellectual history, Saxl until his death in 1946 and Bing from 1955 to 1959. In this new volume, which comprises seventeen chapters, I have translated and updated my work originally published as articles in various academic journals on the impact of these three extraordinary scholars.
Continue reading Studies on Aby Warburg, Fritz Saxl, and Gertrud Bing
Image-making ages always appear to be image-breaking ones as well, as Len Scales (Durham) stressed in his welcome and introduction, referring to current instances of overtly political attacks on images. As such, we would expect the Middle Ages, as a decidedly visual age, to be no different. Yet existing scholarship, Scales continued, suggests that image-breaking was alien to the medieval period. Perhaps because medieval images were so often religious in content and the Middle Ages are so often viewed as an era of faith, the relative (though not absolute) lack of religiously motivated iconoclastic action throughout the Middle Ages is mistaken for proof that there was no noteworthy destruction of visual material, and certainly not for political reasons. Scales thus called for comparative and systematic research to further flesh out the topic.
Continue reading Conference Report: The Politics of Iconoclasm in the Middle Ages, 1–2 September 2022
It seems like the logical conclusion to a friendly and fruitful relationship that my monograph on town directories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, entitled Die Stadt lesen: Englische ‘Directories’ als Wissens- und Orientierungsmedien, 1760–1830, has recently been published in the GHIL’s series with De Gruyter Oldenbourg. By far the largest part of my archival research—with most sources relevant to my Ph.D. held by English archives—was made possible by two GHIL scholarships, which also allowed me to discuss my ongoing work with colleagues at the Institute.
Continue reading Directories and the Legibility of Urban Spaces, 1760–1830
The newly published anthology Ethiopia Illustrated: Church Paintings, Maps and Drawings is a result of my appointment as Associate Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences in 2017. The suggestion was aired to publish a volume with my research articles on Ethiopian manuscripts and paintings, which had previously appeared in a variety of journals accessible to readerships in Europe and North America, but which were not easily accessible in Ethiopia. Such a project necessitated obtaining permission to republish the articles, which fortunately was quickly forthcoming. But it also necessitated obtaining funding to print not only seven articles, but also no fewer than 146 illustrations in one volume. The Ethiopian Academy Press was keen to do so, but asked if financial assistance was available.
Continue reading Ethiopia Illustrated: Manuscripts and Painting in Ethiopia – Examples from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century
Almost two weeks later, recordings and photographs of the attack on the Capitol are still making newspaper headlines, flicker across screens, and fill the feeds on social media. Countless commentators described the attack as an extraordinary event in the history of the United States. Joe Biden called it ‘unprecedented’; The New York Times described it as a threat to ‘the heart of American democracy’. But the shock and anger in response to the attack were not just fuelled by its attempt to interfere with the election of a new president or the fact that several people died as a result. They were also fuelled by acts of destruction, which were chronicled and communicated by observers and actors alike. As Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer deplored:
Continue reading Broken Symbols: Display and Destruction during the Attack on the Capitol