New post for Verso by Chris­to­pher Lu

13. October 2023

Chris­to­pher G. Lu, a Rhodes Scholar at the Univer­sity of Oxford, has published a new blog post for Verso. Lu is curr­ently reading for an MSt in Modern Languages at Oxford and specia­lises in Renais­sance art and intellec­tual history.

Lu’s post for Verso follows up on a topic he began to explore in 2021 when, as an MA student at the Warburg Insti­tute, he contri­buted to the online exhi­bi­tion for the 75th anni­ver­sary of the Census. The start of his inves­ti­ga­tion is a box of index cards housed at the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute that bears the label ‘Burchard Census’. Lu’s rese­arch into this box led him from the Rubens scholar Ludwig Burchard to the art histo­rian Alfred Scharf who compiled the cards on Burchard’s behalf in the 1930s.

In this essay, Lu describes his fasci­na­ting journey into the history of the Buchard box, which brought him into contact with Scharf’s descen­dants and with the traces of Scharf’s career at the Warburg Insti­tute, the Cour­t­auld, I Tatti, and else­where. Lu’s rese­arch offers inva­luable insights into the history of the Census project, since the cards in the Burchard box are the direct prede­cessor to the Census as it was devised by Fritz Saxl and Richard Kraut­heimer in 1946. His essay opens up new perspec­tives, moreover, on the chal­lenges faced by scho­lars exiled from Germany as they re-estab­lished their careers and rese­arch projects in the UK.

The summary is given below and the full essay is available here.  It is available in German here.

Tracing the Foot­s­teps of Alfred Scharf: The Early History of the Census and the ‘Repu­blic of Pictures’

Around 1975, two gree­nish-grey wooden boxes arrived at the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute. They contained a precursor of the Census of Antique Works of Art and Archi­tec­ture Known in the Renais­sance, one which was only salvaged from obli­vion three decades after the Census’s crea­tion. In quest for a clearer picture of the main contri­butor to this early project, a lesser-known art histo­rian named Alfred Scharf, I embarked on an odyssey across various archives with unex­pected encoun­ters. An outline of Scharf’s career was gradu­ally pieced toge­ther, but my disco­veries also reve­aled his presence amidst a ‘Repu­blic of Letters’ of art histo­rians and art dealers in the late nine­te­enth and early twen­tieth centu­ries, who used photo­graphs of artworks as their currency, cata­lo­guing and indexing as their stan­dard methodology.