Bibliotheca Hertziana - Max Planck Institute for Art History

Bibliotheca Hertziana - Max Planck Institute for Art History

The Bibliotheca Hertziana is recognized internationally as a unique centre dedicated to research in Italian art history. Having emerged from a foundation championed by Henriette Hertz (1846–1913), it was opened in 1913 as an institute of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society in Rome. The current Institute is committed to research in the visual arts and architecture from antiquity to the 20th century, and the significance this holds for European culture. The Institute has traditionally focused on the Renaissance and Baroque eras. During the past few years, a research database for Roman painting and one for architectural drawings have been put into operation at the Institute. Further projects cover the Epistemic History of Architecture, cultural transfer with Northern Europe and the history of the Institute.


Via Gregoriana 28
00187 Rom, Italien
Phone: +39 0669993 1
Fax: +39 0669993 333

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.

Intricate brightness

Intricate brightness

January 15, 2013
After ten years of construction, the Bibliotheca Hertziana has opened its new premises. More than 300 guests from the German-Italian cultural life, politics and Curia attended the ceremony in Rome. more
Caravaggio is one of the most influential artists of the Early Baroque. He is especially well known for his dramatic lighting effects. The technique he used to create these was something he guarded like a trade secret. As a result, legends surrounded the painter even during his lifetime. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Director at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, has taken on the task of demystifying Caravaggio’s image.
The gaping, terrifying jaws of hell in Rome’s Via Gregoriana: in Federico Zuccari’s day, the entryway led directly into the garden of the palazzo that the famous painter commissioned on Pincian Hill for himself and his family in the late 16th century. Long closed to the public, the palazzo was reopened at the beginning of the year and now serves as a portal to paradise for art historians and all who are interested in art history. Rising behind lofty heritage-protected walls and barely visible from the street, a compact yet finely wrought new building is home to a library containing almost 300,000 volumes and the photographic collection of the Bibliotheca Hertziana. Bequeathed to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in the early 20th century by patron Henriette Hertz, the Bibliotheca Hertziana is celebrating its centennial this year as the Max Planck Institute for Art History. In addition to the Palazzo Zuccari, the centerpiece of the institute, the current premises also include the neighboring Palazzo Stroganoff and the Villino Stroganoff on the opposite side of the street. Following the opening of the spectacular new library building designed by Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg after more than ten years in construction, the institute library – the only one of its kind in the world – is once again open to the public and to researchers from around the globe. Five levels of tiered galleries are grouped around a trapezoidal inner courtyard, providing scholars with light-flooded working areas. In addition, the windows offer a generous view over the Eternal City: art historians thus have the object of their research directly before their eyes. A truly paradisiacal garden for academic pursuits.
In the early years of the 20th century, artists, scientists and academics of all walks, united in their love for Italian art, gathered frequently at the Palazzo Zuccari. Hostess of this cultural salon was a German art lover and patron, Henriette Hertz. Her ideas still live on today at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, which she bequeathed to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.
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Around 1600, modern landscape painting blossomed as a distinct artistic genre. A research project at the Bibliotheca Hertziana explores the diverse ways in which Netherlandish artists in Rome contributed to this development. From the comparison of exemplary artistic careers, it becomes evident that the new perception of landscape did not only result from an intensive study of nature, but also from the cultural exchanges catalyzed by the experience of migration.


Historical spaces can be reconstructed only as conveyed by their representations in various media. In addition to selected case studies reconstructing pre-modern spaces in southern Italy and Naples, a project at the Bibliotheca Hertziana particularly addresses historical spatial constructions themselves. Investigating the interplay of several media that construct space, the project traces the historical process through which the spaces were collectively perceived and defined. The aim is to develop a dynamic model of space that situates art historical objects in a more nuanced manner.


Roma communis patria. The national churches in Rome from the Middle Ages to the modern era

2015 Kubersky-Piredda, Susanne; Daniels, Tobias
Cultural Studies

The Minerva Research Group at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck Institute for Art History, examines the National Churches of Rome from the Middle Ages to the modern era. Central to its work is the question of how collective identities were developed in the Eternal City and expressed through art. An interdisciplinary team of scholars seeks to present for the first time ever a comprehensive analysis of the foreign communities of Rome and their art in order to illustrate the historical foundations of Europe via the Roman example.

The German Warburg-Kreis art historians’ language had been transformed due to their forced exile in English-speaking countries. How has the study of visual arts been influenced by languages rooted in different cultural traditions? Research focuses on the way Aby Warburg’s approach altered in the works of his first intellectual heirs. more

The research project of the Beijing Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning & Design Institute THUPDI (Tsinghua University Beijing) and the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome) is devoted to the Western Buildings in the Old Summer Palace Yuanmingyuan in Beijing. The project investigates the interaction between Western architectural forms and Chinese concepts of architecture. It examines how Chinese builders adapted indigenous and imported construction methods to realise the Western palaces and how this intercultural moment was received.


Spazio figurato and the Medieval Perception of Space

2012 Geymonat, Ludovico Vittorio
Cultural Studies
A research project at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome) studies the interactions among figures, space and beholder. The working term spazio figurato denotes spaces designed to house an encounter with figures specifically created to be placed within them. Focusing on medieval spazi figurati, the project aims to understand how these interactions have changed over time and how these spaces are perceived. more

Optical knowledge in the history of painting

2011 Thielemann, Andreas
Cultural Studies
What are the connections between the history of optics and the history of painting? A research project at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome (Max Planck Institute for Art History) explores this question, with an orientation based on the classification system of classical optics, which as a theory of vision and of light in late Antiquity was divided into three principal areas: direct vision based on the rectilinear diffusion of light, reflection on reflective surfaces, and the refraction of light rays on the interface between media of different densities. more

Hitler in Rome, 1938

2010 Dobler, Ralph-Miklas
Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences
A Bibliotheca Hertziana research project looks at the official art and architecture in Fascist Italy between 1936 and 1943, during the period of the ‘Rome-Berlin Axis’ proclaimed by Mussolini. The way in which the regime presented itself and the way in which the two totalitarian states perceived and influenced each other is of particular interest. The study focuses on Adolf Hitler’s visit to Rome in 1938, the events leading up to it and its consequences. more
One of the research projects at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome deals with the exchange of diplomatic gifts between Italy and Spain during the sixteenth century. Italian princes offered elaborate works of art to the Spanish king Philip II to demonstrate political loyalty, but also to distinguish themselves before Europe’s most powerful ruler. Ambassadors and agents were responsible for procuring and delivering these diplomatic gifts, and in order to do so they had to be familiar with official political events as well as with internal court intrigues. During the 1580s Philip II employed one of his court jesters, Gonzalo de Liaño, as a middleman on diplomatic missions to Italy. The correspondence of this curious figure offers new insights into early modern court culture. more
At the end of the fifteenth Century the Cesarini family ascended to the nobility of Rome. In order to consolidate this position, they developed specific strategies: They claimed to descend from the ancient nobility of Rome and they exploited their office of the Roman standard-bearer (Gonfaloniere) to demonstrate their close connection with the traditions of Rome. A study in the Research Area „Malerei und Bildkünste der Frühen Neuzeit“ of the Bibliotheca Hertziana reconstructs these strategies in detail. more

Caravaggio, an honourable intellectual

2007 Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille
Cultural Studies
Caravaggio’s cult status is largely based on clichés surrounding the painter’s notoriety as a criminal bohemian. The Bibliotheca Hertziana has embarked on a long-term research project, the first phase of which seeks to re-examine the artist’s life in the light of contemporary sources and the interdisciplinary context of recent historical research. What emerges from this investigation is the picture of an (almost) normal life amidst an ambitious and enterprising middle class. more
Early modern agents, key figures in the mediation of cultural and scientific concepts, have come into the focus of research. On the basis of the correspondence of the Roman agent Johann Friedrich Reiffenstein (1719-1793), which for the first time has been reconstructed from German, Italian and foremost Russian archives, an attempt is made to analyse the communicative patterns of the transfer of aesthetic, artistic and scientific concepts from late enlightened Rome to the Northern and Eastern European periphery. more

Cupid at the Fountain or the limits of painting

2006 Julian Matthias Kliemann
Cultural Studies
Researchers in the 1980s believed Cecco del Caravaggio’s ‘Cupid at the Fountain’ to be ‘perhaps the most shameless painting ever to emerge from the time and artistic milieu [of Caravaggio]’. However, such an interpretation, derived solely from the supposed sexual disposition of the artist, cannot explain many details within the painting. In fact, the painting illustrates amor Dei, the desire for God. If one accepts this interpretation of the painting the composition as a whole unfolds as a highly complex reflection upon the possibilities and limitations of a realistic religious painting. more

Digilib: studying und annotating scholarly images via internet

2006 Raspe, Martin; Robert Casties
Cultural Studies
Digilib is a software tool for the scholarly study of images via internet. Images can be zoomed and annotated in a persistent way. It was developed as open source software by the Berlin Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome in collaboration with the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science at Bern University. Digilib opens up new perspectives of scholarly research working on digital images. more
Pietro Cavallini, the most important painter of the Middle Ages in Rome, undertook around 1300 the task of decorating the nave of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere with an expansive cycle of frescoes. By applying the frescoes to the walls of the structure which was built some 500 years earlier, a remarkable ensemble was created. Only about ten percent of the original painted decoration has survived because of the complete refurbishing of the church in later centuries; it is no longer visible from the nave. A tachymeter was used to record the still existing fragments of these frescoes on the Carolingian walls. In addition it was possible to reconstruct the highly developed decorative system of the workshop of Cavallini for the first time. more
Since the late sixteenth century an empirical, experiment-based approach to the understanding of nature came to play an ever more important role. Craft processes and especially building techniques like the construction of scaffoldings and vaulted ceilings, or the preparation of building materials, were understood as experiments with nature and as the suitable starting-point for reflections on the principles of the natural sciences. After the theory of building construction had ceased to depend entirely on classical philology and after the restrictive structures of the medieval guilds began to disintegrate, the new systematic determination of the physical foundations of craft techniques led to the accumulation of an alternative building knowledge, based on the findings of natural science. The knowledge of mathematicians or philosophers on the one hand, and architects, engineers and building workers on the other, are systematically compared and analysed for the first time in the research project "Construction Knowledge in Italy 1600-1750". more
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