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A “Grey Savior”: Kenneth Clark and the rescue of Hamburg’s Warburg Institute

Berkowitz, Michael; Technische Universität Berlin, Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung

Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung

Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), an art historian, was a leading public intellectual of mid-20th century Britain. Clark was a key figure in the effective transplantation of Hamburg's Warburg Institute to London. Clark perceived the intellectual approach of Aby Warburg (1866-1929), who championed the contextualization of symbolism, as more historically sound and fruitful than the personalized aesthetics of Bernard Berenson (1865-1959). Before hearing Warburg lecture in Rome, January 1929, Clark had professed his fealty to Berenson. While Clark was sensitive to the plight of German Jews after the advent of the Nazis, this article argues that his greatest motivation was to save the Warburg's library and other treasures of its research center. Because Clark was mindful of how antisemitism functioned in Britain—sharing some of these ideas himself, along with other nasty stereotypes about Jews and money—he strongly advised Fritz Saxl not to waste time or energy pursuing a home at Oxford or Cambridge. Clark suspected, most likely correctly, that the only safe harbor for the Warburg, in Britain, could be the University of London, especially since it had recently welcomed the creation of the Courtauld Institute. Clark saw himself as having unrivalled insight into how Jews operated in both the market for fine art, as well as its scholarly interpretations. Clark's sense of how antisemitism would present obstacles for Saxl, and how to imagine alternatives, proved invaluable for the migration of the Warburg Institute to London.