Bringing light into darkness

Dorothea McEwan


The art historian Fritz Saxl, Aby Warburg’s librarian and trusted friend, researched apart from art historical topics images of gods of late antiquity, Oriental and Greek mystery cults and the pictorial presentation of dialogue in early Christian art. This research led him to Mithraism, the images and practices of this mystery cult and in particular how Oriental thought flowed into Occidental thought. Saxl was engaged in this work for many years. In this article I touch upon Saxl’s extended correspondence with Aby Warburg in 1929, when Warburg was in Rome and was able to see Mithraic temples for himself. The exchange of their queries and tentative answers, their theoretical speculations and findings, their approach to understanding Mithraic monuments and sites, shed light on their unique method of scholarly collaboration.


Aby Warburg; Fritz Saxl; Mithraism; pictorial presentation

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