The final, unfinished project of the Hamburg art historian and Kulturwissenschaftler Aby M. Warburg (1866–1929)—the so-called Mnemosyne image atlas (Bilderatlas)—has recently drawn increased attention not only from scholars but also from artists and museum curators. Within this reception, the idea has gained currency that Warburg’s strategy of image arrangement in the Mnemosyne atlas bears a significant relationship to the techniques and aesthetics of cinema. Yet little evidence exists that Warburg ever paid much attention to cinema’s formal or technical means of expression, or much enjoyed going to the movies. How, then, has it become a critical commonplace that Warburg’s late methods of ordering images resemble, especially, Soviet methods of film montage? The first two parts of this article show how such comparisons may be inaccurate or misleading. The third part argues that Warburg’s conception of the Mnemosyne atlas and of the related late Bilderreihen (image series) was conditioned more by a historical understanding of print media than by any relationship to cinema.

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