In Focus

Inspiration and Arrangement.
The library – a place of research for 125 years

Photo Guido Guidi ©

„The scholar who comes to Italy must have at hand a specialized library and a collection of images in the country itself which he may consult at any moment [...] for his historical and comparative studies.“

Max Georg Zimmermann, 1861-1919, 1893


Album of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz,
 Decision to found an art history institute in Florence, November 25-27

„Such an institute, first and foremost, must be equipped with: 1) An art historical library as comprehensive as possible, as well as a large collection of images (to allow for comparative studies) brought together and arranged in appropriate workrooms and made accessible for use.“

Album of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, entry on the day of the „provisional“ opening, 16 November 1897

„The main value of the library consists not in the quantity of what is available – since this is still modest - but in the fact that it is a systematically arranged HANDBIBLIOTHEK, which makes it easy to use – and therein lies its success: without having to order in advance, any user can take a book from the shelf, and in doing so he will often find, alongside the book he was looking for, other books on the same subject which may have been unfamiliar to him until now.“

Heinrich Brockhaus, Director 1897-1912, 1905

Location of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in the private apartment of Heinrich Brockhaus, director 1897-1912,
Viale Principessa Margherita 19/21, photograph from 1897/1902 

„In order to work on a particular topic, after a general orientation in the library, it is recommended to go to the bookshelves yourself to find the place where the relevant books are located.“

Heinrich Brockhaus, Director 1897-1912, 1910


„One of the principal aims of the institute [is] not only to continue to add to its collection of books and illustrations, but above all to make it easily available to visitors. There [are] no special formalities to be adhered to, no advance ordering of books [or the like], whoever [comes], books and illustrations [are] always at their disposal. The collection is arranged in such a way that everyone can easily find their way around and access the material they need.“

Hans Freiherr von der Gabelentz-Linsingen, Director 1912-1921, 1920

Palazzo Guadagni, 1920s

„The cornerstone of the Institute is a collection of books so comprehensive and wide-ranging, the likes of which has rarely been at the disposal of scholars and art lovers until now.“

Hans Freiherr von der Gabelentz-Linsingen, Director 1912-1921, 1920

Palazzo Guadagni, 1963

Palazzo Incontri Rosselli


Library inventory books, 1897 to 2011

Inventory book entries by librarian Sandra Galigani, 10.10.1963

Sandra Galigani, librarian 1949-1985, carrying out inventory work, 10.10.1963


Heinrich Brockhaus, director 1897-1912, Inventory book entries 27-31 December 1898

Inventory 2022 in the library system Aleph


Inventory stamp, ca. 1950

Ownership stamp

First systematic order from 1897 to 1912

„It is recommended that the library be divided into 24 sections, which are not too different in scope [from each other]. [...]
The attached suggestion for a new division of the library places three sections dealing with more general subjects at the forefront (A- C). These are followed by two lots of eight main sections: Art monuments in general or according to category (D-L) and art monuments categorised by place (M-T). The final part is made up of four sections dealing with marginal areas of art history (U-X) and finally the periodicals (Z).“

Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

First draft of the new systematic order by Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912


Revised draft of the new systematic order by Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

Palazzo Guadagni, new set-up, 1920s

„The arrangement has been done in such a way that in its entirety it represents, so to say, a living subject catalogue, the use of which is made easier through large headings above the bookcases and through movable guide cards on the individual shelves.“

Heinrich Bodmer, Director 1922-1932, 1924

„A card catalogue with bibliographically accurate records of the titles, which should form the basis of any library work, is altogether missing.“

Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

„I declared [...] from the beginning that I [...] regarded the new cataloguing as a clearly defined scientific task to be completed in a certain period of time.“

Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

Otto Wenzel, Custodian and Librarian 1902-1915, and Walter Biehl, Assistant 1912/1915, while cataloguing

„[In my opinion] a good catalogue is as important for the library as new bookshelves.“

Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

Handwritten card catalogue in Palazzo Guadagni on 8 January 1964,
shortly before the move to Palazzo Incontri


Design for new library shelves in Palazzo Guadagni, Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912 

Realisation, still in use today

„“[...] The structure of the new premises [in Palazzo Incontri] is therefore already discernible and one can confidently say that [the] aim of this profound change in the history of the Institute will have been achieved: namely, expanding the study collections and increasing the number of workplaces while preserving the traditions that have now existed for more than half a century.“

Ulrich Middeldorf, Director 1953-1968, 1962

Palazzo Guadagni, floor plan, drawing by Christian Hülsen, 1858-1935, 1912

Palazzo Incontri, 1969

Palazzo Incontri-Rosselli, 2022

„The centre of the library is the large working and study room, which can also be used as a lecture room, and in which the artists’ books and the important section on the topography and history of Florence could be housed.“

Heinrich Bodmer, Director 1922-1932, 1927


Palazzo Guadagni, reading room, 1932-1933

„Via Giusti offriva altre forme, molto belle, e la mia nuova ricerca delle ragioni anche loro, scopriva negli scaffali tesori addormentati.“

Carlo Del Bravo, 1935-2017, 1997

Palazzo Incontri, large reading room, 1964 and today


Palazzo Guadagni, periodicals section, 1963

The ‘Giostra’ was manufactured according to the drawing by Peter Anselm Riedl. It was made by a carpenter from Oltrarno, Via della Chiesa. At the time, people were very proud of the piece of furniture; they even considered having a sign put up saying ‘after a design by P. A. Riedl’.

Detlef Heikamp, 2013


Palazzo Guadagni, periodicals section, 1927-1935

Periodicals section today

„It is remarkable that we are allowed to use [the holdings of the Library] so freely. Unlike the majority of research libraries here and abroad, the [Kunsthistorisches] Institute has open stacks. This affords us the privilege of immediate and unlimited access to its collections. We all benefit from the easy availability of its thousands of books and catalogues that we may take from its shelves. The invitation to browse is irresistible, and to speak for myself, has led to many fortuitous discoveries.“

Diane Cole Ahl, 1997

Palazzo Incontri, 1960s


Palazzo Guadagni, 1963-1964

Palazzo Guadagni, 1927-1935 

„The view towards the future, in turn, is focused on the positioning of the library [of the Kunsthistorisches Institut] within a technology-driven, exponentially growing global network of knowledge and information with its inherent data-based communication.“

Research Report of the Kunsthistorisches Institut for the years 2019 until 2021

„The [Kunsthistorisches] Institute is not just one of the best art history libraries in the world […] but it is also a place for colleagues to meet, exchange ideas, and help one another in the deepest spirit of inquiry and friendship.“

Harriet McNeal Caplow, 1997


Photo Guido Guidi ©

Photography: Clara Forcht and the Library’s and Institute's photo archive 
Concept and Coordination: Library

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