Medievalist of a social-history methodology. Warnke's parents were Kurt Anton Friedrich Warnke and Hilka Schomerus Warnke. Warnke studied history, art history and Germanistik at the universities in Munich, Madrid, and at the Freie Universität in Berlin. He received his Ph.D. from Berlin in 1963 with a dissertation on Rubens, written under Hans Kauffmann. He volunteered for a year at the Berlin Museum consortium, Stiftung Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1964-1965, producing a small catalog on the Flemish works (1967). He married Freya Grolle. In 1965 Warnke secured a fellowship in at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence (through 1967). Warkne began teaching at the Westfälische Wilhelms University, Münster, Germany in 1967 while writing his Habilitationschrift. His Habilitation was granted through the University in Münster, Germany in 1970. The same year, Warnke headed a section of the Twentieth Congress of German Historians of Art with Leopold Ettlinger on art historians of the Third Reich. The topic proved volatile, both because a number of the art historians about whom he spoke--though not mentioned by name--were in the audience and because German art-historical practice of the past was denounced. The furor was covered in the Stuttgarter Zeitung (newspaper). Methodologic ideas would interest him his lifelong. Warnke was appointed assistant professor at Philipps Universität Marburg in 1971. In 1976, he published his magisterial Bau und Überbau: Soziologie der mittelalterlichen Architektur nach den Schriftquellen which, as the title says, examined the sociology of medieval building through primary sources. He was appointed professor of art history at the university in Hamburg in 1978. He returned to topics of theoretics of art with his collected essays Künstler, Kunsthistoriker, Museen in 1979 and his essay in the volume on the Hamburg maverick art historian Aby Warburg, Die Menschenrechte des Auges: über Aby Warburg in 1980. In 1990 he was awarded the Leibniz Prize, a monetary award which he used to found the Forschungsstelle für Politische Ikonographie (Research Center for Political Iconography) at the Warburg-Haus in Hamburg, a research center founded after World War II in honor of Warburg. He received a Getty Center fellowship in 1987. He became emeritus professor at Hamburg in 2003. The University established a Martin Warnke Medal in 2005. Warnke's work grew out of the neo-Marxist movement in Germany in the 1970s, where material culture and the social conflicts in art production were an antidote to the previous Kunstwissenschaft approach (Crossley). His social-political art history broadened the discipline through controversy. His 1970 session, "Kunsthistoriker im Dritten Reich," (later published in the conferences essays, Das Kunstwerk zwischen Wissenschaft und Weltanschauung) denounced German academic art history as facillitating Nazism by ignoring issues of freedom and instead focusing on the minutia of the discipline. In medieval scholarship, Warnke construct a sociology of architecture through primary sources. Contrary to the prevailing view (example, Paul Frankl) that medieval architecture represented a unity of effort, Warnke placed church building as the product of struggles between conflicting groups who created a building aesthetically representing no one faction (Crossley). His work was built upon by medievalists such as Jane Welch Williams.
Kommentare zu Rubens. Berlin, 1963; Organisation der Hofkunst. Westfälische Wilhelms University, Münster, 1970; Flämische Malerei des 17. Jahrhuderts in der Gemäldegalerie Berlin. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1967; "Kunsthistoriker im Dritten Reich". in Warnke, Martin, ed. Das Kunstwerk zwischen Wissenschaft und Weltanschauung. 12th Deutscher Kunsthistorikertag (Cologne, Germany). Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Kunstverlag, 1970; Bau und Überbau: Soziologie der mittelalterlichen Architektur nach den Schriftquellen. Frankfurt am Main: Syndikat, 1976; and Hofmann, Werner, and Georg Syamken, Georg. Die Menschenrechte des Auges: über Aby Warburg. Frankfurt am Main: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1980; Künstler, Kunsthistoriker, Museen: Beiträge zu einer kritischen Kunstgeschichte. Lucern: C. J. Bucher, 1979, English, The Court Artist: on the Ancestry of the Modern Artist. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993; Politische Landschaft: zur Kunstgeschichte der Natur. Munich: C. Hanser, 1992, English, Political Landscape: the Art History of Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995; Spätmittelalter und Frühe Neuzeit 1400-1750. volume 2 of Klotz, Heinrich, ed. Geschichte der deutschen Kunst. 3 vols. Munich: Beck, 1998-2000.
Deinhard, Hanna. "Review of 'Das Kunstwerk zwischen Wissenschaft und Weltanschauung' by Martin Warnke." Art Bulletin 54, no. 1 (March 1972): 113-115; "Lebenslauf Martin Warnke." http://www.gerda-henkel-stiftung.de/binaries/addon/85_informationen_martin_warnke.pdf; Crossley, Paul. "Introduction: Frankl's Text: Its Achievement and Significance." Frankl, Paul and Crossley, Paul. Gothic Architecture. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, p. 26;