Warburg’s unfinished and unfinishable project was the great iconographic sequence he called Mnemosyne, a vast collection of images that charted, across a tapestry of connections, the many trails the scholar had been following. But how to display these images? How to place them in front of him so that they could be studied in sequence, but a sequence that could be varied according to new ideas and newly perceived connections? The solution to this problem came from Saxl. Upon Warburg’s return to Hamburg, Saxl met him with large wooden panels, like standing blackboards, across which he had stretched black hessian. Warburg’s images could be fixed with pins on the cloth, and easily removed whenever he wanted to alter their position. These giant displays, “pages” of an endless book of variable sequence, became the core of all Warburg’s activities in the last years of his life. Since he could change both the panels and the images on them at will, they became the physical illustration of his realm of thought and his library, to which he appended streams of notes and comments. “These images and words are intended as help for those who come after me in their attempt to achieve clarity,” he wrote, “and thus to overcome the tragic tension between instinctive magic and discursive logic.
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel