Some notes on Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory

I recently watched the documentary Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory (Wechsler, 2016) via Kanopy (for free using my local library’s gateway) and thought that others here interested in the ideas of memory in culture, history, and art history may appreciate it. While a broad biography of a seminal figure in the development of art history in the early 20th century, there are some interesting bits relating to art and memory as well as a mention of Frances A. Yates whose research on memory was influenced by Warburg’s library.

Of specific “note” is the fact that Aby Warburg (1866-1929) had a significant zettelkasten-based note taking practice and portions of his collection (both written as well as images) are featured within the hour long documentary. You’ll see it in the opening scenes in the background during many of the interviews, but there’s also a portion featured at the 30 minute mark which looks at a few of his zettels. Like several other zettelkasten practitioners he had a significant zettelkasten practice but did not publish much, but did lecture quite a lot and had outsized influence both during his life as well as posthumously and his zettelkasten and research remain as an archive for scholars who still study and extend his work.

Sadly, I’m unable to catch any screenshots from the film due to technical glitches, but if folks can figure out how to pull some out, I’d appreciate them.

Aby Warburg’s extant zettelkasten at the Warburg Institute’s Archive consists of ninety-six surviving boxes (of 104 or possibly more) which contain between 200-800 individually numbered index cards. Dividers and envelopes are used within the boxes to separate the cards into thematic sections.

The digitized version is transcribed in the original German and is not available translated into English (at least as of 2023). The digitized version maintains the structure of the dividers and consists of only about 3,200 items. It can be searched at As examples one can find the record for box 4a on “the Renaissance” at and the physical divider inside box 4a for “Jakob Burkhardt” with subsections listed at

The Warburg Institute archive had this sample photo of some of his decorative/colorful boxes:

Has anyone visited the Warburg archive in London before?

Originally published on April 20, 2023 at 01:42AM