The Performativity of the Classical According to Warburg: Pathosformeln and Memory in Renaissance Festivals


  • Daniela Sacco Iuav University



The purpose of this article is to examine the performative aspect implicitly embedded in Warburg’s thinking about Renaissance festivals, starting with the formulation of the term Pathosformel introduced in the text Dürer and Italian Antiquity (1905). Here Warburg identifies Poliziano’s Fabula di Orfeo as “the first Italian tragedy” and complements and extends the insights from the essay Costumi teatrali per gli intermezzi del 1589 (1895). The lessons of Burkhardt and Nietzsche played a crucial role in shaping Warburg’s understanding of intermedi as a form of transition between art and reality, as opposed to theatre, which is based on words and text. These intermedi are characterised by their high expressive mimicry qualities, and they are embryonic forms of the new art to come, which is accompanied by an implicit tragic element. Warburg shifts from mimetic models associated with iconology to a study of art history where he focuses on the creative principle as the tragic matrix of the artistic act. This allows him to integrate performative themes more effectively within the cultural understanding of art.

Keywords: Aby Warburg; Renaissance festivals; Pathosformel; intermedi; performance