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Nymph. Motif, Phantom, Affect. Part II
Aby Warburg's (1866-1929) Butterflies as Art Historical Paradigms

Authors:  Baert B.

Year: 2016
ISBN: 978-90-429-3347-7
Pages: X-105 p.
Price: 36 EURO

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This essay, a meditation on the butterfly and its resonance in art history, is organized in three parts. I begin with Aby Warburg's fascination with moths and butterflies as documented by (1) his letters to André Jolles (e.g. the letter from 1900 known as 'But such high-flown movements are not for me'), (2) the Kreuzlingen pathological report and archives by Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966) preserved in Tübingen, and (3) the Ninfa fiorentina file in the Warburg Institute. As Seelentierchen - soul animals, psychè - butterflies are archetypically connected to deep cultural affects regarding the soul, resurrection and immortality. Part 2 of the paper considers the butterfly as paradigm for the visual medium and the oculocentric paradigms in art history. Indeed, the butterfly has a specific visual (and sensory) impact on humankind with its flashy, quick, vibrant and hypnotic wings, its medusian eyes and its capability to camouflage itself (cf. 'Sciences diagonales' by Roger Caillois (1913-1978)). Hypnosis, Medusa and camouflage are three important paradigms with which to consider the essence of the image as a dis/appearing, enchanting, and deceiving medium. In Part 3, the three paradigms become the basis for new reflections about art history (and the history of art history) as a study of the butterfly, in short, as 'lepidopterology'.

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