75 Years, 1946–2021. From Index Cards to Online Database

Room 1

1940s. Burchard’s Box and the Birth of the Census

Already before the Census began, the German art histo­rian Ludwig Burchard and his assistant Alfred Scharf gathered infor­ma­tion on the know­ledge of anti­quity in the 16th- and 17th centu­ries using index cards. This room explores these cards and the early corre­spon­dence between Richard Kraut­heimer and Fritz Saxl about their ideas for a Census of Anti­qui­ties known in the Renaissance.

Room 2

1940s-70s. Bober and Rubin­stein: Index Cards and Photographs

The Census became a reality when American archaeo­lo­gist Phyllis Bober joined in 1947. Bober built and expanded the Census in colla­bo­ra­tion with the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute, sending index cards to London where they would be matched with photo­graphs. After 1957, she worked with her cross-Atlantic colla­bo­rator Ruth Rubin­stein. This room explores their working methods.

Room 3

1981–3. Phyllis Bober and the Census Digitalisation

Phyllis Bober had since the 1940s deve­loped the analogue version of the Census. How would she confront its digi­ti­sa­tion in the 1980s? Letters from Bober’s archive in Bryn Mawr shed light on her contri­bu­tions to the process.

Room 4

1980s-present. The Census Database

The data­base built in the 1980s has under­gone nume­rous tech­no­lo­gical changes, while the content of the Census data­base has grown expo­nen­ti­ally. This room includes a time­line of these deve­lo­p­ments and pres­ents visua­li­sa­tions of the current contents of the database.

Census Time­line: 1945–2020s


Richard Kraut­heimer, writing his mono­graph with Trude Kraut­heimer Hess on Lorenzo Ghiberti, suggests to Fritz Saxl, ‘Couldn’t we try to orga­nize a corpus of anti­ques known to the 15th century?’ Saxl agrees to the idea, which he will develop it with Kraut­heimer during a trip to the USA in 1946.


Kraut­heimer and Saxl begin to plan the Census. In a letter to Saxl of May, 1946, Kraut­heimer outlines the scope and aims of the project, which will gather lite­rary sources and figural images. docu­men­ting anti­qui­ties known in the Renais­sance. The project was from the begin­ning envi­sioned as a coope­ra­tion between New York Univer­sity and the Warburg Insti­tute, with both insti­tu­tions keeping a copy of the Census in the form of dupli­cate index cards and (when possible) photographs.


Work progresses as the Census becomes a formal project of the Warburg Insti­tute with Phyllis Bober as its Director.

In 1954 NYU becomes a co-sponsor of the project and a base of opera­tions for Bober.

Bober creates index cards for the Census, while the Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, under the direc­tion of Enri­quetta Frank­fort, gathers photo­gra­phic records.


In 1957, Ruth Rubin­stein assumes respon­si­bi­lity for the Census at the Warburg Photo­gra­phic collection.

The cards and photo­graphs continue to be compiled in two dupli­cate sets, one kept at the Warburg Insti­tute and the other at NYU.

c. 1978

Michael Green­halgh of Leicester Univer­sity suggests that the Census should be computerised.


In 1981, the Biblio­theca Hertziana joins the Census project, whose scope expands to include archi­tec­tural mate­rial. The Census also extends its upper chro­no­lo­gical limit to 1550.

Arnold Nessel­rath is made director of the digi­ti­sa­tion of the Census. Begin­ning in 1982 the Art History Infor­ma­tion Program at the J. Paul Getty Foun­da­tion spon­sors the compu­te­ri­sa­tion of the Census at the Warburg Insti­tute and at the Biblio­teca Hertziana in Rome, funding the purchase of machines as well as soft­ware programming by Rick Holt.

Arnold Nessel­rath follows Phyllis Bober as Director of the Census.


Phyllis Bober and Ruth Rubin­stein publish Renais­sance Artists and Antique Sculp­ture: A Hand­book of Sources, a refe­rence book which disse­mi­nates the Census mate­rials they had coll­ected over decades.


The Census moves to the Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin, where a profes­sor­ship is created for the Director of the Census, first held by Arnold Nesselrath.


The project receives funding from the Bundes­mi­nis­te­rium für Bildung und Forschung.


The project receives funding from the Berlin-Bran­den­burg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.


Kath­leen Chris­tian was appointed professor at the Institut für Kunst- und Bild­ge­schichte and Director of the Census.


Bartsch, Tatjana (2008). Distinctae per locos sche­dulae non agglu­ti­natae – Das Census-Daten­mo­dell und seine Vorgänger, in: Pegasus. Berliner Beiträge zum Nach­leben der Antike 10, pp. 223–260.

Bober, Harry (1962). The Gothic Tower and the Stork Club, in: Arts and Sciences: Ideas, Issues, and People in the Univer­sity World, pp. 18.

Bober, Phyllis P. (1952). Letter to the Editor, in: The Art Bulletin 34, p. 253.

Bober, Phyllis P. (2002). Before and After the Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture Known to Renais­sance Artists, in: The Italian Renais­sance in the Twen­tieth Century, edited by Allen J. Grieco, Michael Rocke and Fiorella Giofreddi Superbi, Florence, Leo S. Olks­chki, pp. 375–385.

Bober, Phyllis P. (1963). The Census if Antique Works of Art Known to Renais­sance Artists, in: Renais­sance and Manne­rism. Studies in Western Art, Vol. 2, pp. 82–9.

Bober, Phyllis P. (1977). The Coryciana and the Nymph Corycia, in: Journal of the Warburg and Cour­t­auld Insti­tutes 40, pp. 223–239.

Bober, Phyllis P. (1989). The Census of Anti­qui­ties Known to the Renais­sance: Retro­s­pec­tive and Pros­pec­tive, in: Roma, centro ideale della cultura dell’Antico nei secoli XV e XVI da Martino V al Sacco di Roma 1417–1527, edited by S. Danesi Squar­zina. Milan, Electa372–381.

Bober, Phyllis P. (1995). A Life of Lear­ning, in: American Council of Learned Socie­ties Occa­sional Papers, 30.

Bober, Phyllis P. and R. Rubin­stein (1986). Renais­sance Artists and Antique Sculp­ture. A Hand­book of Sources. London and Oxford, Harvey Miller Publishers and Oxford Univer­sity Press. Revised edition published 2011.

McEwan, Doro­thea (2012). Fritz Saxl. Eine Biografie: Aby Warburgs Biblio­thekar und erster Direktor des Londoner Warburg Insti­tutes. Vienna, Cologne, and Weimar, Böhlau Verlag.

Nessel­rath, Arnold (1994). The Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture Known to the Renais­sance, in: Auto­matic Proces­sing of Art History Data and Docu­ments, Papers, vol. 2, edited by Laura Corti, Pisa, Scuola Normale Supe­riore, pp. 83–96.

Nessel­rath, Arnold (1993). The Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture Known to The Renais­sance, in: Archeo­logia e calco­la­tori 4, pp. 23–27.

Nessel­rath, Arnold (2015). The After­life of “Nach­leben”. The Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture Known in the Renais­sance, in: The After­life of the Kultur­wis­sen­schaft­liche Biblio­thek Warburg, edited by Uwe Fleckner and Peter Mack (Vorträge aus dem Warburg-Haus 12), Berlin, De Gruyter, pp. 187–199, 245–247.

Nijkamp, Lieneke, Koen Bulckens and Prisma Valke­neers (eds.) (2015). Pictu­ring Ludwig Burchard 1886–1960: a Rubens Scholar in Art-Histo­rio­gra­phical Perspec­tive, Harvey Miller.

Rubin­stein, Ruth (1984). The Census of Antique Works of Art Known in the Renais­sance, in: Collo­quio sul riem­pie­godei sarco­fagi romani nel medioevo, Pisa 5.–12. September 1982, edited by Bernard Andreae and Salva­tore Settis, Marburg/Lahn: Verlag des kunst­ge­schicht­li­chen Semi­nars, pp. 289–290.

Trapp, Joseph B. (1999). The Census: its Past, its Present and its Future, in: Pegasus. Berliner Beiträge zum Nach­leben der Antike 1, pp. 11–21.

Exhi­bi­tion Organisers

Seminar parti­ci­pants and exhi­bi­tion orga­nisers: Kath­leen Chris­tian (Humboldt-Univer­sität, seminar convener); Ioana Dumit­rescu, Emily La Vay, Chris­to­pher Lu, Antonia Rosso, Zahra Syed (MA students, Warburg Insti­tute); Pia Ambro­sius, Agnete Bay, Ariana Binzer, Tim Boroe­witsch, Leonie Engel, Marie Erfurt, Fried­rich Fetzer, Marina Gold­in­stein, Helene Hell­mich, Eva Karl, Matteo Anthony Kramer, Anna Latzko, Sarah Letzel, Maria Elisa­beth Lehmann, Ayami Mori, X. Tuan Pham, Valen­tina Plot­ni­kova, Leetice Posa, Claire-Elisa Rüffer, Lucy Salmon, Hannah Sommer, Sophie Steiner, Lidia Strauch, Elisa Tinterri, Radu Vasil­ache, Bahar Yerushan, Zhichun Xu (BA students, Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin).


This exhi­bi­tion was created as a colla­bo­ra­tion between the Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin and the Warburg Insti­tute in London by BA students in art history in Berlin and MA students in London. It deve­loped out of a seminar taught online by Kath­leen Chris­tian at the Humbolt-Univer­sität during pandemic rest­ric­tions in the Winter semester of 2020–21. It could not have taken place without the great gene­ro­sity of many people who joined the seminar for inter­views on Zoom, who provided access to archival mate­rials and photo­graphs, or in many other ways offered their insight and inva­luable assis­tance. In parti­cular, the orga­nisers would like to thank the follo­wing (in alpha­be­tical order): Daan Bachman, Jona­than Bober, Horst Brede­kamp, Rembrandt Duits, Franz Engel, Meral Kara­cao­glan, Simon Kwauka, Eliza­beth McGrath, Eckard Marchand, Jennifer Montagu, Luise Mörke, Arnold Nessel­rath, Lieneke Nijkamp, Caspar Pearson, Martin Price, Ursula Price, Eric Pumroy, Clara Sawatzki, Bill Sherman, Paul Taylor, and Claudia Wedepohl.

Drawings: Bahar Yerushan

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