Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max Planck Institute

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max Planck Institute

The KHI (Kunsthistorisches Institut) in Florence is one of the oldest research institutions dedicated to the history of art and architecture in Italy, where facets of European, Mediterranean and global history are subjected to close scrutiny. Founded in 1897 upon the private initiative of a group of independent scholars, it has been under the auspices of the Max Planck Society since 2002. In addition to numerous individual research projects, those funded by third parties and a range of international collaborations with universities, museums and research institutes, the Institute provides a platform for major long-term projects whose subject matter ranges from Late Antiquity to the Modern Age. The promotion of international young scientists and academics is also high on its agenda. With its full programme of public academic events and up to 100 visitors daily, the KHI is a unique, open platform for lively, international and interdisciplinary academic exchange.


Via Giuseppe Giusti 44
50121 Florenz, Italien
Phone: +39 055 24911-1
Fax: +39 055 24911-55

PhD opportunities

This institute has no International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS).

There is always the possibility to do a PhD. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

The reverse side of the medal
Despite its prestige, the UNESCO world heritage title has some drawbacks more
Pompeii through the ages
Scientists from Fraunhofer and Max Planck institutes are studying the history of the restoration of Pompeii, which has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997, and are developing innovative materials and processes for conserving the city’s ancient sites. more
The Spanish Conquistadors found it surprisingly easy to conquer the New World. However, it required more than violence and cruelty to rule the territory. A team of researchers headed by Thomas Duve at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History is investigating the media through which the Spanish crown consolidated its dominion. Meanwhile, an international research group led by Carolin Behrmann at the Max Planck Institute for Art History in Florence is studying the importance of images in the consolidation and legitimation of law with a focus on Early Modern European history.
In an age of modern anatomy atlases and freely available online body-browsers, Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of organs and body parts done with quill, ink and red chalk may strike us as aesthetically pleasing, yet antiquated. Nevertheless, almost everyone in Germany carries a reproduction of his famous Vitruvian Man with them – on their health insurance card. Alessandro Nova, Director at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, on the other hand, explores Leonardo’s work in the light of the scientific knowledge it generates.
Art history has traditionally been focused on the study of European artifacts. The links and interactions between artifacts in Central Asia, India and the Mediterranean were largely ignored. Researchers working with Gerhard Wolf, Hannah Baader and Avinoam Shalem at the Art History Institute in Florence (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, MPI) are seeking to break down these boundaries and open up new, global research perspectives.
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The research library for art history in global context

2017 Nova, Alessandro; Simane, Jan
Cultural Studies

To comply with the requirements of art-historical research, libraries have to adapt their services to the standards of digital publication formats and digital forms of communication. International collaboration is indispensable to meet these demands. The Kunsthistorische Institut in Florenz is prominently involved in a network of art libraries. Dozens of art libraries from 15 countries have managed to establish a virtual bibliographic database. Furthermore, the network tests innovative methods to visualize semantic and quantitative information in catalogue data.


Piazza e monumento: A project dedicated to an art-historical inquiry of the city

2016 Nova, Alessandro; Sölch, Brigitte
Cultural Studies
Piazzas make their appearances by rejecting the dense structure of buildings in the city, but they are never finished. They are rebuilt, overbuilt and "frequently future spatial potentialities of a square were already latent in its initial stage" (P. Zucker). Furthermore, they are depicted in a variety of images. So art history has both tasks, to analyze the structure of public squares and how they impact the city around them as well as to analyze images of piazzas and how they mould the idea and perception of the social and political dimension of the public space. more

Jacopo Ligozzi (1547–1627) was regarded as a universal painter by his contemporaries. His colour drawings of flora and fauna from the Old and New World, produced for the Medicean court and Ulisse Aldrovandi, were famous. They demonstrate a descriptive mode of visualizing and generating knowledge, rather than mere imitations of nature. Ligozzi’s self-affirmation of his skill with pencil and brush is evidenced by the fact that he calls himself “miniator” in the signature on his monumental canvas in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence.


Florence is generally regarded as a Renaissance city, in fact even as the Renaissance powerhouse par excellence. In which light does this topos appear if Florentine urban space is placed at the focus of consideration?


Images, objects, and signs of the law

2013 Behrmann, Carolin
Cultural Studies
Law relies on visualization as the positive legislative text represents merely an approximation. Through images, objects and signs the law escapes a tautology, as it reaches cultural and social actions only by materialization. The research project at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence analyzes the form of artifacts used in the field of law, to delineate their agency. more
The fifth centenary of the birth of Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), one of the precursors of modern art history, calls for a reconsideration of aspects of his oeuvre, from his – often underestimated and therefore little studied – role as one of the most successful and productive painters and architects of his generation, to his more famous literary work, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. This offers both new approaches for the history of science of our own discipline as well as intensified methodological reflection. more


2011 Baader, Hannah; Caraffa, Costanza
Cultural Studies
There are various forms of city-islands, both in the literal and the metaphorical sense. A research project at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz (Max Planck Institute) analyses historic and contemporary city-islands like Venice, Tenochtitlan Mexico City, Stockholm, Manhattan, Tyre, Mahdia, Syracuse, Gallipoli, Taranto, Stockholm, Dejima, Dubai and Koper. It studies city-islands on a more abstract level, the Vatican City or West Berlin for example, and related topics like Utopia/Atlantis. more

Mediterranean art histories – 4th to 16th century

2010 Wolf, Gerhard
Cultural Studies
The premodern Mediterranean is characterized by an exchange of goods, artifatcs and knowledge beyond religious, political or cultural confinements. Harbour cities like Venice, Genoa or Pisa built and took part in networks which reached as far as to the Black Sea, and from there to the trade routes for the Far East. The Mediterranean courts shared forms of representation which cannot be understood within one cultural paradigm alone. A research project of the Kunsthistorisches Institut combines case studies with a discussion of the methodological implications of a Mediterranean art history. more
Squares make their appearances by rejecting the dense structure of buildings in the city. Nevertheless they are not empty surfaces, vacuums or vessels, but spaces that develop in a variety of structural relationships. As a spatial expression of the city, squares reflect their city. In particular in the Western world, the square is perceived as a „public space“ through which political and social happenings are imparted. The consequence for the fine arts is the task of analysing the structure of squares as well as how they impact the city around them. more
A research project at the Kunsthistorische Institut in Florence is working on a new, critical German edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Vite, a fundamental documentary source for Italian Renaissance art. Apart from thorough annotation of the approximately 160 biographies of the artists, their artworks and themes, also Vasari’s rhetorical strategies, underlying subtexts, and parallels to other lives or literary texts are explored. In addition, variations and divergences between the 1550 and 1568 editions of the Vite are analyzed. more
CENOBIUM is a multimedia presentation of Romanesque cloister capitals. High-resolution digital photographs, 3-D models, and panoramas will virtually link the capitals to their original surroundings, thus representing them within their original architectural and conceptual contexts. The project is being undertaken in cooperation with the Institute of Information Science and Technologies (ISTI) at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) in Pisa and has the central aim to study artistic exchange in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in architectural decoration. more

Digital archive for the artistic and cultural topography of Italian cities

2006 Simane, Jan; Wolf, Gerhard; Haug, Henrike
Cultural Studies
The aim of the project is to make selected historical sources focusing on the history of art and urban culture in Italian cities fully accessible and searchable in digital form. In the first phase of the project, travel guides and inventories of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries as well as the collection of drawings of Florentine heraldry housed at the Art History Institute in Florence will be digitized using the newest data technology. These sources will ultimately be integrated into a larger network structure, fostering an interchange that allows a wide variety of information to be accessed through a main portal. more
A main focus of the research conducted at the Kunsthistorisches Institut - Max Planck Institute in 2004 was the art and culture of the city of Genoa in its Mediterranean context. In 2004, the seaport was one of Europe's two designated cultural capitals, along with the city of Lille. Within the framework of this event, an exposition took place in Genoa that allowed a small team from the institute both to realize the first step in a major research project and to present the project to a broader public. The exposition was entitled Mandylion: Intorno al Sacro Volto, da Bisanzio a Genova; its underlying concept was developed by researchers at the institute who launched the show jointly with colleagues from the University of Genoa. A single object, the Genoa Mandylion, was the focal point of the exposition, its significance being underscored by an encounter with an icon from St. Catharine's monastery in the Sinai. This approach allowed a particularly strong linkage of research with the public presentation of the results - a combination of great interest for future projects at the Institute for Art History. more
In this project, the political iconography of a central Italian city-state is being analyzed, taking Lucca as an example. Differently from previous investigations that were focusing on very narrow periods of time, this project will research a period encompassing more than a millennium from the 9th to the 20th century. In this context it is possible to obtain much more specific results regarding the political and historical self-fashioning of the city-state. Differently from other Italian city-states, a highly developed culture of extraverted propaganda was lacking in Lucca. The investigation of a phenomenon that may be called "disguised political propaganda" has yielded surprising results. more
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