Excavating in the Wanderstraßen der Kultur. Piranesi’s Candalebra and the material Reception of Antiquity
Usually we do not think of Warburg as an archaeologist. He rather appears, carefully dressed, as the scholar in his studio, surrounded by the images he cut out for his collages. But his favourite metaphor to describe his life’s work was that of the excavator: to retrace, as he put it in one version, the vagaries of Nachleben as the unearthing of villages and towns of which only isolated road blocks and fading road numbers survived. In another version of the archaeological metaphor he described his study of the survival of pathos formulas as “preliminary excavation reports about the first stages of the migration routes along which ancient gesture travelled from Athens to Rome, Florence and Nuremberg”. These metaphors suggest something that until now has remained somewhat neglected in both reception and Nachleben studies: that not only images survive, but objects as well, and that they survive not just as the carriers of images, but as material objects as well. And whereas reception studies of images is by now a well-established and flourishing discipline, especially in the UK, the material reception of Antiquity is still an emerging field. Biographies of objects over long periods are now occasionally written, but the biographical model is a bit of a mixed blessing: it helps structure the narrative, but tends to favour a conception of an object as a unique individual, rather than a member of a class or type. Also, the metaphor of the life of an object gives the narrative a certain shape and drive that obscures all sorts of methodological issues.