At the same time that Aby Warburg was assembling his library and organizing his Bildatlas Mnemosyne, art critics and writers theorized late nineteenth-century collecting in Paris in metaphoric terms. Over and again, art collections were described as a bouquet, a conversation, a book, or indeed as a painting in and of itself put together by an ‘amateur’. By creating an ensemble, the amateur proposed a metaphorical mode of knowledge similar to that celebrated by Aby Warburg. This article considers the ways in which the arrangement and spaces of the late nineteenth-century amateurs, as seen in newspaper articles, sales catalogue essays and other texts and photographs, positioned the collector of paintings, but also of drawings and prints and rare books, in contradistinction to the development of the museum and proposed alternative modes of viewing and of knowing. The interdisciplinarity of Warburg’s focus on image, word, orientation and action is paralleled in many private collections.