Tanti auguri to Christoph Luitpold Frommel

September 25, 2023

Christoph Luitpold Frommel celebrates his 90th birthday on September 25, 2023. Frommel was born in Heidelberg and spent many formative years at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History; first as a fellow, then as assistant, and finally as its director. He came to the institute after completing his doctorate with Hans Sedlmayr in Munich. The core of the thesis he developed there would become the seminal three-volume Römischer Palastbau der Hochrenaissance (1973), the work with which he habilitated in Bonn. After years teaching in Bonn and in Princeton as a visiting professor, he was appointed director of the Bibliotheca Hertziana in 1980, succeeding Wolfgang Lotz and joining Matthias Winner. When he retired in 2001, Rome's Sapienza University awarded him an honorary professorship. In 2019, Rome City Council named him an honorary citizen of the city of Rome, making him the fifth German to be given the award since 1870 – and, after Richard Krautheimer, the second from the Bibliotheca Hertziana.

Both in its subject and in its methodology, Frommel's research on Renaissance architecture – and in particular his Palastbau – revolutionized the scholarly field. As an architectural typology, palaces were still unexplored at the time, and though we take it for granted now, his model of meticulous study of archival sources and architectural archaeological findings was without precedent in scholarship of the day. He was one of the first to recognize architecture as not merely a formal and aesthetic task but as the result of the work of a wide variety of actors and interests – especially those of the client and the artist, which were often in conflict. In Frommel’s work, social constellations and technical and practical considerations play as important a role as the individual ideas and ambitions of great personalities. Such is Frommel’s singularity as a scholar that his ideas brought him level with the figures he studied.

Frommel is part of a tradition of foundational research in the humanities, together with honorary German citizens of Rome Ferdinand Gregorovius and Theodor Mommsen. During his twenty-one-year tenure he made the Bibliotheca Hertziana the undisputed center of research in the field of Renaissance architectural history. Those same years also witnessed important strategic decisions on the new library building, which Frommel initiated with foresight and diplomatic skill. He continues to live and work in Rome.
The Bibliotheca Hertziana extends its best wishes for his birthday!

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