Panel C

Introduction | Guide: Claudia Wedepohl

Panel C is the last of the three documented ‘theoretical’ proto-panels which Aby Warburg had conceived for the ‘ultimate,’ yet unfinished and incomplete version of his Bilderatlas. These programmatic panels were evidently meant to address both the epistemology and the practice of the creation of symbols. We know that on October 19, 1929 – seven days before his fatal heart attack – Warburg called this panel ‘D’ and gave it the short title ‘up to Kepler and continuing further to the Zeppelin’. Since ‘A’ had not been assigned to a particular panel at this stage, the letter ‘C’ may be a posthumous nomination.

With seven reproductions panel ‘C’ contains fewer images than any other panel of this version. The seven items have been selected to illustrate, in the most condensed manner, the relation between the human being (the subject) and the surrounding cosmos (the object) or, more precisely, the individual’s notion of the order of the cosmos and its forces. One could say that with these few images Warburg wanted to illustrate the opposition of a so-called ‘primitive’ notion of the universe and a rational (i.e. mathematical-technical) attempt to approach, understand, and dominate it; in short: the opposition of Sternglaube (believe in the power of stars and constellations) and Sternkunde (astronomy). Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that astrology already encompasses mathematical skills since mathematics are the basis of any calculation of the movement of the stars. In order to grasp this fact, Warburg focused on periods of transition and brilliant figures who were instrumental in this transition – individuals whom he called Übergangstypen (transitional types). These figures had apparently not yet overcome their superstitious beliefs, but were capable of correctly calculating the movement of the planets and thus of advancing astronomical knowledge in an ultimately revolutionary way. Johannes Kepler was for him such a characteristic ‘type’ who promoted the modern sciences. Yet this active promotion was for Warburg also part of a passive evolution. The seven reproductions thus represent not just the opposition of, but also the ‘evolution’ from a ‘primitive’ perception of the external world to the correct ‘mathematical’ calculation of the solar system. Putting the individual at its center, Warburg calls this evolution/revolution a conscious ‘liberation’ from outside forces. The individuals who promoted it were for him precursors of the Enlightenment.