Bober and Rubin­stein: Index Cards and Photographs

In a letter of September 11, 1946, Saxl informed Kraut­heimer that ‘Mrs. Bober’ would like to work on their survey of anti­ques. In 1947, Phyllis Pray Bober, who had recently received her PhD in archaeo­logy from NYU, joined the project, initi­ally with the role of coll­ec­ting bibliography.

Although Saxl’s prema­ture death in 1948 was a signi­fi­cant setback, the Census project entered a more estab­lished phase in 1953, when NYU became a partner insti­tu­tion toge­ther with the Warburg Insti­tute. From 1953 to 1973, as Rese­arch Asso­ciate and even­tually as foun­ding chair of the Depart­ment of Fine Arts, Bober received insti­tu­tional support from NYU for her work on the Census.

Under Bober’s direc­tion, and in colla­bo­ra­tion with the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion at the Warburg Insti­tute, its records expanded.

In the early phase of the project, parti­cular emphasis was placed on the study of Renais­sance sketch­books, and their publi­ca­tion in the Studies of the Warburg Insti­tute series. Bober’s own publi­ca­tion of the sketch­books of the Bolo­gnese artist Amico Asper­tini appeared in this series in 1957. Iden­ti­fying Renais­sance drawings after the antique continued to be an important part of Bober’s work on the Census, and NYU would occa­sio­nally subsi­dise summer rese­arch trips to Europe, where she would search drawings coll­ec­tions for new disco­veries. In 1972, Bober left NYU and became a Dean and Professor at Bryn Mawr. At Bryn Mawr she could explore her passion for the history of cook­books and cuisine, culmi­na­ting in the publi­ca­tion of Art, Culture and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastro­nomy in 1999.

A brief time­line of Bober’s career is found below.

Warburg Insti­tute Archive, GC, Fritz Saxl to Richard Kratu­heimer, 11.9.1946

New York and London

Bober’s work on the Census involved colla­bo­ra­tion with the Warburg Insti­tute across the Atlantic. She would compile index cards in the US and then send copies of them in batches to London, where cura­tors in the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion would assemble images of the ancient monu­ments and rele­vant Renais­sance works of art.

The front of the Apollo Belve­dere Census card, Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Collection

Cabi­nets in the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion of the Warburg Insti­tute with blue Census Folders

A copy of each photo­graph ordered in London was also sent to the Insti­tute of Fine Arts in New York to accom­pany the index cards kept there. In this manner, the Census grew in dupli­cate, and could be accessed in both partner insti­tu­tions. The London copy of the Census remains at the Warburg Insti­tute, while in 1995 the Insti­tute of Fine Arts at New York Univer­sity donated their copy of the Census to the Institut für Kunst- und Bild­ge­schichte in Berlin.

The ‘analogue’ Census built up by these dupli­cate sets of index cards and photo­graphs adheres to Krautheimer’s initial outline of the project. From the begin­ning, the Census was aimed at docu­men­ting ’specific infor­ma­tion regar­ding the antique mate­rial acces­sible to Renais­sance scho­lars and artists’ (See Room 1, Kraut­heimer, Letter to Saxl of 13.5.46, fol. 2). Bober’s index cards main­tain this focus: antique monu­ments provide the heading for each card, with infor­ma­tion given on its current loca­tion, proven­ance, and resto­ra­tion history. Under­neath, the cards list lite­rary and visual sources from the Renais­sance (such as sketch­books and prints), as well as biblio­gra­phic refe­rences. Renais­sance all’an­tica inven­tions, forge­ries or fantasy concep­tions of the antique were not included on the cards. As Bober wrote in 1963, ‘I do not concern myself with seeking out indi­vi­dual poses in, let us say, Renais­sance pain­tings, because artists may either arrive at these inde­pendently or reac­ti­vate an ulti­m­ately clas­sical proto­type trans­mitted in medieval guise. It is rather the testimony of direct copying or adapt­a­tion, of groups of figures or complete compo­si­tions, which has reliable docu­men­tary value for the Census’, (Bober 1963, p. 85). The Census project long relied on Bober’s archaeo­lo­gical exper­tise to fulfil the original goal, that is, to replace a vague under­stan­ding of antique ‘influence’ with an accu­rate and specific under­stan­ding of the antique monu­ments known in the Renaissance.

Below, one can see how the index card for the Apollo Belvedere—from the Warburg Institute’s copy of the Census—was orga­nised. In this example, Bober’s typed card made in New York was completed in London with hand­written notes, mostly by Ruth Rubin­stein. Rubinstein’s check marks on the card confirm the presence of the rele­vant photo­graphs in the Warburg’s Photo­gra­phic Collection.

Front of the Apollo Belve­dere Census card, Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, with boxes and labels explai­ning its format
Ruth Rubin­stein

Illus­tra­tion, rese­arch, orga­niza­tion, and expan­sion were part of Ruth Rubinstein’s work at the Census photo­gra­phic coll­ec­tion. After recei­ving Bober’s typed index cards with descrip­tions of antique monu­ments, Rubin­stein sourced the illus­tra­tive mate­rial. From 1957 until 1996, Rubin­stein held the role of special rese­arch assistant for the Census, sear­ching the photo coll­ec­tion for rele­vant photo­graphs, orde­ring those that were missing and orga­ni­sing them in the collection’s exis­ting index. The Census photos were in this manner inte­grated into the icono­gra­phic clas­si­fi­ca­tion system of the Warburg Institute’s photo coll­ec­tion, but kept in reco­g­nis­ably bright blue folders. Every time she located a photo­graph, Rubin­stein put a check mark on the card. When she disco­vered further repre­sen­ta­tions of the antique monu­ment, she noted them by hand. The backs of the Census cards and photo­graphs in London are filled with Rubinstein’s ’scribbles’: Renais­sance sources disco­vered in books and auction cata­lo­gues, or coll­ected during her daily inter­ac­tions with visi­tors to the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion. The students in the Census seminar were able to speak to several of Rubinstein’s former colle­agues, who remem­bered how her warm and welco­ming perso­na­lity drew many acade­mics to the Census. The project grew through Rubinstein’s wide circle of cont­acts and friends, and in the social gathe­rings at the home of Ruth and Nicolai Rubin­stein in Hamp­stead. Below are selected excerpts from an unpu­blished type­script in the Warburg Insti­tute Archives of Ruth Rubinstein’s talk, ‘My Thirty-Five Years at the Census in Ten Minutes’. Rubin­stein deli­vered it at a Census Collo­quium at the Warburg Insti­tute held in March 1992.

Ruth Rubin­stein, © Warburg Insti­tute Archive

The back of the Apollo Belve­dere Census card, Warburg Insti­tute Photo­gra­phic Collection

Ruth Rubin­stein, ‘My Thirty-Five Years in the Census in Ten Minutes’, 1992
© Warburg Insti­tute Archive, Ruth Rubin­stein Papers, IV.19.2
In 1957, Enri­queta Harris Frank­fort, then the Curator of the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, invited me to work part time in the Coll­ec­tion. I opted to work on the Census of Antique works of Art Known to Renais­sance Artists (as it was then called) and have been with it ever since. At that time, the Census was mainly used by editors of the sketch­books to be published by the Warburg Insittue. To me the Census seemed central to the purpose of the Insti­tute: to throw light on the survival of the clas­sical tradi­tion, in this case by iden­ti­fying by docu­men­ta­tion (of drawings and other sources) the specific antique works of art visible in the Renais­sance. Initi­ally my inte­rest in the Census was focussed on the antique works of art available to Pope Pius II whose patro­nage of the arts in Rome was the subject of my PhD thesis. I never dreamed then that one day a retrieval system would provide a very long answer to that ques­tion in a very short time.

As the Warburg Institute’s role in the Census was to provide it with photo­graphs, these acqui­si­tions are listed in the Annual Reports of the Warburg Insti­tute, so I shall not dwell upon them here, but simply describe my work, known as ’servicing the Census’. This consisted of illus­t­ra­ting with photo­graphs the docu­men­tary Census cards that Phyllis Bober compiled and sent in batches from the Insti­tute of Fine Arts in New York. That meant checking to see if we already had the rele­vant photo­graphs in the Coll­ec­tion, and if not, orde­ring them from museums and photo­graphers. It also meant that it was not always enough to order only once a photo­graph of an antique statue or the Renais­sance drawing of it. Accu­racy, patient persis­tence, and in stub­born cases, the inter­ven­tion of deli­cate diplo­macy proved to be neces­sary for this task. The inco­ming photo­graphs went into blue Census folders at the begin­ning of the rele­vant file of the Photo­gra­phic Coll­ec­tion, arranged accor­ding to subject, like the Warburg Library and Phyllis’s Census cards. We sent a copy of each new photo­graph to Phyllis in New York, so that the mate­rial of the Census was dupli­cated in the two Insti­tutes until the early 1970s.

Two or three things were soon to give it, or rather me, fresh impetus. John Shearman had urged us to compile a hand­book from a selec­tion of Census mate­rial for the use of students of the Italian Renais­sance. I had thought that this would be well beyond my powers, but as no one else was in such proxi­mity to this mate­rial combined with the supporting resources of the Warburg Institute’s Library, who else would do it? Happily, Phyllis agreed enthu­si­a­sti­cally to such a hand­book for students, and her write-ups of her selec­tion of the entries were superb. […] Renais­sance Artists and Antique Sculp­ture, based enti­rely on the updated Census, was published by Harvey Miller, with some support from the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1986.

Already in 1978 […] when the destiny of the Census still hung in the balance, it was Laurie Fusco, ever one of its special devo­tees, who first suggested that the Getty Foun­da­tion might even­tually be able to support the compu­te­ri­sa­tion of the Census, a plan that had been first proposed by Michael Green­halgh, another enthu­si­a­stic Census and computer-user, then at the Univer­sity of Leicester, and now at Canberra in Australia. All this was several years before the Warburg-Hertziana meeting in Rome in September, 1981, which gave the final impetus to the project which we are now cele­bra­ting, when Arnold Nessel­rath, who had been using and contri­bu­ting to the Census since 1975, was appointed to direct its computerisation.

Since that meeting in Rome, the cut-off date of the Census had been extended from 1527 to 1550, and now to 1600, resul­ting in myste­rious crowds of draped female statues waiting to be iden­ti­fied and to enter the Census.

Renais­sance Artists and Antique Sculp­ture, 1986 and 2011

In 1986, Bober and Rubin­stein published Renais­sance Artists and Antique Sculp­ture: A Hand­book of Sources, a co-authored text with contri­bu­tions by the archaeo­lo­gist Susan Wood­ford. The book combined descrip­tions of the antique reliefs, sarco­phagi and sculp­tures considered the most important for Renais­sance artists with lists of visual sources and updated biblio­graphy. The text conso­li­dated decades of rese­arch and reflects the Census’s long-term focus on Renais­sance figu­ra­tive sketch­books. Pre-dating the disse­mi­na­tion of a compu­te­rised version of the Census on CD-Rom, it made the results of the project widely available for the first time. It quickly became a stan­dard refe­rence work and in 2011 was reis­sued in a revised edition.

The fact that the title of the book prio­ri­tises Renais­sance artists reflects a shift in Bober’s approach to the Census project. As she would write in 1989, ‘from today’s perspec­tive, I must confess that at the begin­ning of work for the Census I was all archaeo­lo­gist’. Even­tually she became ‘a histo­rian of Renais­sance art as much as an archaeo­lo­gist’ (Bober 1989, p. 375). Bober’s fertile imagi­na­tion was incre­asingly stimu­lated by Renais­sance visual art and cultural history, as is seen in the publi­ca­tion in 1977 of what would become a classic article, ‘The Coryciana and the Nymph Corycia’ (Bober 1977). This study in the Journal of the Warburg and Cour­t­auld Insti­tutes explored the theme of the slee­ping Nymph in the artistic, poetic and anti­qua­rian circles of 15th- and 16th-century Rome.

‘Bober and Rubin­stein: Index Cards and Photo­graphs’ (Room 2) and ‘Phyllis Bober and the Census Digi­ti­sa­tion’ (Room 3) are colla­bo­ra­tive exhi­bi­tions by:

Pia Ambro­sius
Ariana Binzer
Ioana Dumitrescu
Marie Erfurt
Fried­rich Fetzer
Marina Goldinstein
Helene Hellmich
Ayami Mori
X. Tuan Pham
Leetice Posa


Valen­tina Plotnikova
Claire-Elisa Rüffer
Antonia Rosso
Lidia Strauch
Elisa Tinterri
Radu Vasilache
Kevin Varela
Bahar Yerushan
Zhichun Xu