Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz

Max Planck Institute Photothek

Location: Florence, Italy
Photographs: 610,000
Website | Online catalogue 

The Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max Planck Institute, 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 investigated. The KHI hosts individual research projects as well as larger long- and medium-term projects whose subject matter ranges from Late Antiquity to the Modern Age. 

Photo Archive

For over a century after its foundation in 1897, the Photothek of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz has been collecting photographic reproductions that are focused mainly on Italian art from late Antiquity to the modern era. The development of the collection of more than 610,000 photographs coincides with and complements the Institute's research projects. From the outset, the goal of establishing a comprehensive documentation of works within a range of genres and periods has remained paramount. Within the framework of this aim, those fields which have traditionally stood as central to the institute’s research are particularly well represented. This concentration is manifest, for example, in the category of Tuscan art, in particular, as well in Italian painting from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, in general. Beyond this traditional Italian focus, the holdings are currently being enhanced through the activities of individual, self-contained research groups. One of these insular collections, for example, is dedicated to the documentation of the medieval art of Georgia.

Over the past several years, the transition to "new media" (electronic cataloguing, digital photographs, online visualization and presentation technologies) has defined much of the day-to-day operations of the Photo library. With the advent of the digital era, the academic understanding of the historical significance of analogue photographs has come more sharply into focus.

As a result, the historical material held by the Photothek is now one of its main research interests and practices. Throughout its long history, it has come into the possession of old, and in some instances, rare photographs as well as photographic volumes coming from bequests and donations of distinguished art historians, themselves worthy of research as historically important compilations.

Naturally, the preservation, maintenance, and enhancement of these collections are fundamentally as important as the continued use and development of new media.

In 2009 the Photothek, in collaboration with international partners, launched the "Photo Archives" conference series, an open-ended series of international symposia dedicated to the interaction between photo archives, photographic records, and academic disciplines based on the notion of the materiality of photography. Five conferences have been held (London 2009, Florence 2009, New York 2011, Florence 2011, Los Angeles 2016) and two volumes published, with future meetings being planned.