Burchard’s Box and the Birth of the Census

In contrast to antiquity’s most infa­mous box, namely the one Pandora dared to open, the box we found at the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute in London did not contain all that is evil and vicious. Quite the oppo­site as it even confronted us with Apollo, God of light, wisdom and the arts. While gods usually do not reside in wooden boxes, Apollo’s presence here would echo through decades of rese­arch in the fields of art history and archaeology.

The box, curr­ently located in the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute, contains many cards and notes written in the hands of the art histo­rians Ludwig Burchard (1886–1960) and Alfred Scharf (1900–1965), German Jewish scho­lars who had fled national socia­list Germany. Burchard was a renowned specia­list on the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens. He reached London in 1935 and there was able to continue his life-long project of gathe­ring docu­men­ta­tion on Rubens. Even­tually, Burchard’s work would form the core of the Rubi­neaum rese­arch insti­tute in Antwerp.

In the 1940s, one focus of Burchard’s inte­rests was the ques­tion of which anti­qui­ties could have been known to Rubens and his contem­po­r­a­ries. He was able to employ Scharf to rese­arch the topic at the Warburg Insti­tute. At Burchard’s direc­tion, Scharf compiled index cards docu­men­ting the anti­qui­ties known to Rubens and other artists in the sixte­enth and seven­te­enth centu­ries. He headed these cards with the name of a parti­cular antique monu­ment, writing below a list of works by Rubens and other artists that responded to it.

Among the cards in Burchard’s box is one dedi­cated to the Apollo Belve­dere. The cards and notes related to the statue are illus­trated and tran­scribed below.

Burchard Census, Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Collection


Ludwig Burchard, © Coll­ectie Stad Antwerpen


Alfred Scharf, © Estate of Alfred Scharf, by kind permis­sion of Ursula Price

Apollo Belve­dere, 1r

Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, Apollo Belve­dere card and notes, 1r


Apollo Belve­dere, 1v

Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, Apollo Belve­dere card and notes, 1v


Apollo Belve­dere, 2r

Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, Apollo Belve­dere card and notes, 2r


Apollo Belve­dere, 3r

Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, Apollo Belve­dere card and notes, 3r


Notes on the Apollo Belve­dere

The cards and notes included facts about the monu­ment and its post­clas­sical history: its find­spot, proven­ance and resto­ra­tions, along with sixte­enth- and seven­te­enth-century artistic repre­sen­ta­tions that responded to it, like those illus­trated to the right, by Albrecht Dürer, and below, by Rubens. In this manner the struc­ture of Burchard’s index cards closely resemble that of the index cards deve­loped for the Census by Phyllis Bober and her colla­bo­ra­tors, which is the focus of Room 2.

The work of Burchard and Scharf directly inspired the metho­do­logy of the Census and estab­lished a model for the project’s colla­bo­ra­tive nature, as is visually displayed by Burchard’s notes atta­ched to Scharf’s cards.

Images: Apollo Belve­dere, © bpk Bildagentur/Scala; Albrecht Dürer, Apollo and Diana, © The Trus­tees of the British Museum; Peter Paul Rubens, The Council of the Gods, © bpk / RMN — Grand Palais / Hervé Lewan­dowski / Chris­tian Jean

The Birth of the Census

The Census was born just as the Second World War came to a close. The need for such a tool was first expressed by Richard Kraut­heimer (1897–1994), a German art histo­rian who had fled to the US to escape Nazi perse­cu­tion. Since 1937, Kraut­heimer had taught at Vassar College, while also lectu­ring at New York University.

In the 1940s, Kraut­heimer was working on a series of volumes on early Chris­tian basi­licas, the Corpus Basi­li­carum Chris­tianarum Romae. Toge­ther with his wife, Trude Kraut­heimer-Hess, he was also writing a mono­graph on the Floren­tine Renais­sance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. Frus­trated by a lack of specific know­ledge on 15th-century know­ledge of antique art, in September, 1945 he wrote to the Director of the Warburg Insti­tute in London, Fritz Saxl, with the sugges­tion that they begin to orga­nise a ‘Corpus’ of anti­qui­ties known to the 15th century. Saxl enthu­si­a­sti­cally replied that he would like to colla­bo­rate on such a project and imme­dia­tely cited the index cards begun by Burchard and Scharf as a model:

I tried to instruct myself some­what on ques­tions of early 15th century know­ledge of antique art. But, as you know, the diffi­cul­ties are really enormous. […] Couldn’t we try to orga­nize a corpus of anti­ques known to the 15th century? I wish we could discuss it when you come here this winter.

Richard Kraut­heimer, 27.9.1945

What you say about the 15th century coll­ec­tions of anti­ques is very true. Scharf has for years coll­ected the mate­rial, at my sugges­tion. […] He recon­s­tructed i.a. the earliest 15th century sketch­books from the antique. It is time that some­body, either at New York Univer­sity or with us, tackled the subject.

Fritz Saxl, 18.10.1945

Below are photo­graphs and tran­scrip­tions of this exch­ange of letters, which can be considered the origin of the Census project. They are housed in the Warburg Insti­tute Archive in London.

Richard Kraut­heimer, © Archives and Special Coll­ec­tions, Vassar College


Fritz Saxl, c. 1939, © Warburg Insti­tute Archive


Kraut­heimer to Saxl 27.9.1945

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Richard Kraut­heimer to Fritz Saxl, 27.9.1945


Saxl to Kraut­heimer 18.10.1945

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Fritz Saxl to Richard Kraut­heimer, 18.10.1945


Deve­lo­ping a Format

When Fritz Saxl was visi­ting the USA in 1946, he and Kraut­heimer deve­loped their ideas for a Census of Anti­qui­ties known to the Renais­sance. They agreed that Saxl would request initial funding for the project from Henry Allen Moe of the Guggen­heim Foun­da­tion. On 13 May 1946, in prepa­ra­tion for this meeting, Kraut­heimer sent Saxl an outline for the Census project, detailing its format, contents, working processes and funding.

Here Kraut­heimer points out that further ‘infor­ma­tion regar­ding the antique mate­rial acces­sible to Renais­sance scho­lars and artists’ is urgently needed to achieve a more ‘thorough and more specific under­stan­ding of the pheno­menon of the Renais­sance’. The value of the Census project would lie in clari­fying the history of early finds and coll­ec­tions, the history of taste, and the impact of anti­quity gene­rally on Renais­sance art, art theory, and huma­ni­stic studies. He advises that the project’s scope should be limited to Italy and should cover the ‘period up to 1532’ [sic], or possibly only up to 1490’.

The Warburg Insti­tute would super­vise the coll­ec­tion of lite­rary sources, while the Insti­tute of Fine Arts at NYU would take respon­si­bi­lity for the picto­rial sources and the history of antique works of art.

The full content of Krautheimer’s letter to Saxl, also housed in the Warburg Archive, is illus­trated and tran­scribed below.

Three types of sources refer­ring to or describing antique works of art extant in the Renais­sance are available for such a Census.

Lite­rary sources of the Renais­sance (Invent­ories of coll­ec­tions; travel descrip­tions; letters of huma­nists; writings on art and on antiquity).

Picto­rial sources of the Renaissance

    1.    repro­duc­tions of antique works (sket­ches; books; indi­vi­dual drawings; engravings).
    2.  works of art inspired or depen­dent on antique proto­types (pain­tings, sculp­ture, engra­vings, medals, etc.)

Remnants of anti­quity having survived through the Middle Ages and Renais­sance to this date. (Coll­ec­tions of sarco­phagi at Salerno; Florence; Pisa; Arles; sculp­ture at Rome.)

Richard Kraut­heimer, 13.5.1946

Kraut­heimer to Saxl 13.5.1946, fol. 1

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Richard Kraut­heimer to Fritz Saxl, 13.5.1946, fol. 1


Kraut­heimer to Saxl 13.5.1946, fol. 2

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Richard Kraut­heimer to Fritz Saxl, 13.5.1946, fol. 2


Kraut­heimer to Saxl 13.5.1946, fol. 3

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Richard Kraut­heimer to Fritz Saxl, 13.5.1946, fol. 3


Kraut­heimer to Saxl 13.5.1946, fol. 4

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Richard Kraut­heimer to Fritz Saxl, 13.5.1946, fol. 4


Other letters in the Warburg Insti­tute Archive detail the foun­ders’ hopes for colla­bo­ra­tors on the project. A plan which even­tually fell through was to have Roberto Weiss, Lecturer in Italian at Univer­sity College London, collect the textual sources. They note that the German art histo­rian William S. Heck­scher would spend a year at the Insti­tute for Advanced Studies at Princeton working on anti­qui­ties in Rome during the Renaissance.

Letters reveal that at this early stage of the project, the crea­tors of the Census were grap­pling with concerns voiced in parti­cular by ‘Lee, Pan and Kennedy’ [Rens­se­laer Lee, Erwin Panofsky and Clarence Kennedy] that the format may be too sterile. Refe­rence was made to the ’spectre of the Chris­tian Index’, that is, the card system of the Index of Chris­tian Art founded at Princeton in 1917. On the 8th of October, Kraut­heimer addressed these concerns to Saxl, writing that ‘an index is as good and as sterile as the people who make and use it’. He suggested that they could revise the plan, ‘placing more emphasis on indi­vi­dual studies which would centre around the main problem and making the index a mere offshoot of such studies’. A shift towards coll­ec­ting mate­rials by means of indi­vi­dual rese­arch projects would ‘give more freedom to the indi­vi­dual but at the same time it may, I fear, post­pone the publi­ca­tion of a handlist’.

In the passage cited on the right, Kraut­heimer then shared thoughts on the chro­no­lo­gical scope of the project that echo through the history of the Census project, up to the present day. Seventy-five years later its focus focus remains on the Renais­sance response to genui­nely antique monu­ments, rather than Renais­sance inven­tions inspired by the antique, and on the period 1400–1600.

The letter of 8 October, 1946 is an essen­tial docu­ment for the history of the Census. In it Kraut­heimer also expresses his support of Saxl’s proposal to have ‘Mrs. Bober’, the American archaeo­lo­gist Phyllis Bober, survey peri­odi­cals and gather lite­ra­ture for the Census, as is discussed in Room 2.

There also have been several sugges­tions concer­ning the field to be covered in our project. One is to extend the field of rese­arch so as to include prac­ti­cally the entire XVII century. I am quite strongly opposed to this, because the mate­rial would grow without limits, and I am sure that the two of us (and I might add, Lehmann whom I saw yesterday) will agree. Another sugges­tion is to include the case history of Anti­ques known during the Middle Ages. This sugges­tion seems to be valid. A third sugges­tion was to include deri­va­tions from Anti­quity in Renais­sance pain­tings (postures, etc,), but that would overlap with the Warburg Atlas and defi­ni­tely lead in a diffe­rent direction.

Richard Kraut­heimer, 8.10.1946

Burchard’s Box and the Birth of the Census is a colla­bo­ra­tive exhi­bi­tion by:

Chris­to­pher Lu (Warburg Insti­tute)
Lucy Salmon (Humboldt-Univer­sität zu Berlin)
Zahra Syed (Warburg Insti­tute)
Hannah Sommer (Humboldt-Unive­ristät zu Berlin)