History of the Library

Die Sala del Disegno im Palazzo Zuccari, 1922
Sala del Disegno in the Palazzo Zuccari, 1922

With the acquisition and subsequent refurbishment of the Palazzo Zuccari (1904-1908), Henriette Hertz, supported by Ernst Steinmann, began to put together a collection of books on Italian art, which initially had the status of a private library. That changed with the foundation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Bibliotheca Hertziana in 1912/13, when it became the new institute’s academic research library. Ever since then – with two wartime closures (1914–1919 and 1943–1947) – it has welcomed a steady stream of art historians from all over the world.

The books were initially housed in four ground floor rooms of the Palazzo Zuccari, but the growing holdings quickly spread onto the upper floors and into neighbouring buildings, which were purchased and remodelled to accommodate the ever-expanding library. The construction of a new purpose-built library tract was decided in 1994. Begun in 2003, the building was completed in 2012.

Right from the start, the books were arranged by subject; since then the holdings have been catalogued by subject as well. The collective subject indexing of the Art Libraries Network Florence – Paris – Munich – Rome remains unrivalled. Begun in 1997, the collective catalogue now runs to approximately 1.6 million titles. In 2011 the specialist Network came under the umbrella of the Bibliotheksverbund Bayern (Bavarian Library Network), but retained its autonomous www.kubikat.org catalogue. 

In 2007 the website »Digitale Bibliothek« went online. It marked the transition to a »hybrid« library with an increasing share of electronic resources and in-house digitisation projects.


Die Sala Terrena im Palazzo Zuccari
Sala Terrena in the Palazzo Zuccari

When the institute was founded in 2012, the library under the aegis of Ernst Steinmann had a stock of 5,000 volumes and was open to a select audience of specialists. In 1920, after the wartime closure of both institute and library (1914-1919) had come to an end, Ludwig Schudt (1893–1961) joined the Hertziana. As the institute’s first academic librarian, he was to shape the history of the library for the next forty years. His acquisitions transformed the collection into the single most important research library for Roman studies. Until the end of Steinmann’s tenure in 1934 – and despite the financial difficulties wrought by war and inflation – the holdings of the library grew to more than 28,000 volumes and more than a hundred periodical subscriptions. With the steady influx of books, open access shelves gradually took over the entire ground floor of the Palazzo Zuccari. By 1930 shelves had to be installed in the lecture room on the first floor.


Auslagerung der Bücher in ein Salzbergwerk in Hallein, Anfang 1944
Removal of the books to a salt-mine in Hallein, beginning 1944

From 1933 to 1943/1944 a kulturwissenschaftliche Abteilung (department of cultural studies) under the aegis of Werner Hoppenstedt was attached to the institute (see History of the Institute).

Serving primarily propagandistic purposes, this new department put together its own library of uneven structure and quality. In addition to academic literature (c. 10,000 volumes), it also acquired popular fiction that peddled Nazi ideas. The library was dissolved after the Second World War. In 1958 a collection of some 700 musicological books was presented to the German Historical Institute in Rome, where it laid the foundation of the current Music History Department.

During the same period the holdings of the art history library, now under the directorship of Leo Bruhns (1885–1957, director of the Hertziana from 1934 to 1953), grew to nearly 40,000 volumes. In October of 1936 a modern two-storey reading room was opened in the Sala Goethe which provided space for 10,000 volumes.

The Institute continued to have numerous visitors until well into the war. On orders from Berlin, the holdings of the three major German academic institutions in Rome – the Hertziana, the German Historical Institute and the German Archaeological Institute – were packed up between December 1943 and March 1944 and evacuated to German Reich territories. A large part of the Hertziana holdings was stored in the Hallein salt mine near Salzburg.

The depot was confiscated by the Allies who returned the books to Rome, where they arrived in full on 1 February 1946. The library reopened in the spring of 1948; the books were held in trust by the Unione Internazionale degli Istituti di Archeologia Storia e Storia dell’Arte in Roma until 1953.


Der Neubau von Silvio Galizia, Innenaufnahme der Leseräume
New building by Silvio Galizia, reading rooms, interior

After the re-inauguration of the Bibliotheca Hertziana as a Max Planck institute in 1953 (see History of the Institute), the acquisition of books for the library – practically dormant since 1943 – returned to its old rate. Ludwig Schudt’s successor, Otto Lehmann-Brockhaus, who joined the Hertziana in 1962 began his tenure with holdings of 60,000 volumes. Realising that the cataloguing system he had inherited could no longer cope with the numbers of books in the library, he introduced a new shelfmark system. The transfer to the new system was completed in 1984 and the library has been using the new infinitely expandable shelfmark classification system ever since. 

In 1963 the Hertziana was able to acquire the Palazzo Stroganoff on the other side of the former Zuccari garden. The same year saw the start of the construction of a modern five-storey library building between the Palazzo Zuccari and the Palazzo Stroganoff. The new building bordered on the Palazzo Stroganoff and was linked to the two modern wings of the Palazzo Zuccari built by Henriette Hertz. Inaugurated in May of 1969, the new library provided a respectable 4,260 running metres of shelf space.

Ernst Guldan, who succeeded Otto Lehmann-Brockhaus in 1977, reorganised the staffing of the library and allotted more time to subject indexing. This programmatic shift of focus continues to characterise the work of the library. Once the reclassification of the library holdings was completed, the next major project was the publication of the printed catalogue which ran to a total of 57 volumes. Exempt was the old subject catalogue, which remains available partly in form of bound volumes with handwritten entries and partly in form of card catalogues and which is still relevant when searching for articles published before 1985.

1993– present

Röhrenbildschirm mit Suchmaske des Allegro-OPAC, 1999–2011
CTR monitor with search engine of the Allegro-OPAC, 1999–2011

In 1993 Ernst Guldan was succeeded by Fritz-Eugen Keller who supervised to changeover of the library administration to a computerised system (Allegro database system). At the same time, the Central Institute for Art History in Munich, the Institute for Art History in Florence and the Bibliotheca Hertziana set up the Art Library Network,

which has been cooperating on subject indexing and formal, alphabetical cataloguing ever since. Their joint catalogue, KUBIKAT, has been online since 1998 and has become the world’s leading bibliographic catalogue for European art history. As a by-product of the exhaustive subject indexing, the Art Library Network has also established itself as one of the biggest producers of authority files in the German library world.

In 1994 it was decided to build a new library tract with high density shelving to replace the three 1960s library wings which were structurally inadequate and no longer complied with current fire protection legislation. To allow for building work, the library was closed in 2001 and 70,000 volumes were evacuated to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GNAM). The remaining holdings (approximately 170,000 volumes) were stored wherever space could be made in the Palazzo Zuccari and the Palazzo Stroganoff. A reading room set up in the GNAM Library until March 2012 allowed external readers to consult pre-ordered books and periodicals.

In March of 2009 the network of art libraries in Florence, Munich and Rome expanded to include the library of the German Forum for Art History in Paris. In July the network joined the Bibliotheksverbund Bayern (Bavarian Library Network). This step ensured that the network stayed abreast of the latest developments in the field of library and information science, which include data exchange and cooperative catalogue expansion. Since 2011 the Bavarian Library Network has been using the Aleph integrated library system. 

Further Reading

Michael Schmitz, Die Bibliotheksabteilung der Bibliotheca Hertziana – Ihre Entwicklung von der Gründung bis heute, Berliner Handreichungen zur Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft 273 (Berliner Handreichungen), hg. v. Konrad Umlauf, 2010, ISSN: 1438-7662

100 Jahre Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Rom. Die Geschichte des Instituts 1913–2013, hg. v. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer und Elisabeth Kieven, München 2012