The Ceramics of the Aby Warburg Collection

Painted pottery vessel; San Ildefonso Polychrome, ca. 1890 San Ildefonso, New Mexico, USA, Inv. Nr. B 6095

Restoration and research of a selection of ceramic vessels from the Southwestern United States

The 47 ceramic vessels belong to a collection by the Hamburg art and cultural scholar Aby M. Warburg (1866-1929), who collected them on a tour of the Southwest of the United States in 1895-1896. The collection, which until now has been largely unknown, is very important in terms of cultural history because of its connection with Warburg’s world-famous cross-cultural explanations of the pictorial symbolism of the Pueblo art (known under the headings “Kreuzlingen Lecture” and “Serpent Ritual”). The whole collection will be presented to the public for the first time in its entirety in an international special exhibition project, together with a publication on Aby Warburg and his collection.

The ceramics collection consists of objects that originate from an archaeological as well as historical context. Many of the selected objects have not been exhibited or scientifically examined for decades and are dirt-stained and damaged, partly due to storage conditions and partly due to former evacuations during the Second World War. Some of the objects are fragmented or show old deficient restorations. The entire selection will now be examined and documented in detail. There are plans for cleaning the surfaces. The old restorations will be reviewed and, if necessary, revised, and the fragmented objects will be assembled, if possible and appropriate for the objects. The final step will be the production of suitable object supports for the depot and exhibitions.

In order to ensure the critical reappraisal of Warburg’s collection and his journeys, and to include the societies of origin concerned, we will seek the cooperation with representatives of the respective Pueblo communities for the exhibition and the restoration. Regarding the restoration, such cooperation will provide valuable information on the production techniques, the materials used, damage patterns, the handling of varied ceramics and, relating thereto, treatment and exhibition strategies adequate to the cultural context.

The restoration of a selection of ceramics from the Aby Warburg Collection is funded by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.