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Focus on the renaissance

Transfer of the Art History Institute in Florence into the Max Planck Society and broadening of the research spectrum


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On June 3, 2002, from 4.30 p.m., the Art History Institute (KHI) in Florence will celebrate its transfer into an academically independent institute supported by the Max Planck Society. The festive occasion will take place in the grand auditorium of the University of Florence and subsequently in the gardens of the KHI. The designated President of the Max Planck Society, Prof. Peter Gruss, as well as the Managing Director of the Institute, Prof. Max Seidel, will be welcoming many guests from at home and abroad. These include Prof. Augusto Marinelli, Magnifico Rettore dell'Università degli Studi di Firenze, Antonio Paolucci, Soprindente Speziale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino, Michel Laclotte, Directeur honoraire du musée du Louvre/Vice-Président du Conseil scientifique de l'Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, Paris, Elisabeth Cropper, Dean, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Director of the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome - Max Planck Institute, Jens Peter Haeusgen, President of the Association for the Support of the Art History Institute in Florence e.V., as well as Dr. Wolf-Dieter Dudenhausen, Ministerialrat in the Federal Department for Education and Research. The festive address will be delivered by Christina Acidini Luchinat, Sorprintendente, Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro, on the subject "A Painter, two Houses, one Destiny: Federico Zuccari in Florence and Rome".

Until the year 2001, the Art History Institute (KHI), headed by Prof. Max Seidel, was still in its organizational form "a dependent federal institution" under the authority of the Federal Department for Education and Research (BMBF). The primary focus of the KHI is northern Italian art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The initiative for its transfer to an academically independent institute came from federal authorities. In the autumn of the previous year, the Federal Department for Education and Research (BMBF) asked the Max Planck Society to examine the possibility of taking over the Art History Institute. The background to this request was a report by the Wissenschaftsrat in November 1999 on the BMBF-supported Institutes of the Liberal Arts located abroad. The senate of the MPG accepted the proposal by the BMBF. At a later date a committee appointed by the Humanities Section of the Max Planck Society assessed questions of the academic quality of the KHI and its perspectives. The result: transference of the Institute to the Max Planck Society would place art history research on a broader foundation and generate new and decisive impulses in dealing with the subject of art history and its international impact. The committee therefore resolved unanimously to accept the KHI into the Max Planck Society. This resolution was upheld by the Senate of the MPG and formally endorsed in a meeting on June 21, 2001.

By the beginning of the year 2002 the financial and administrative questions had been clarified with the Department and the Federal-State Commission for Educational Policy and Research Planning had given its final consent. The KHI was transferred into the Max Planck Society at the beginning of the year as an academically independent institute.

At the same time, the committee recommended the formation of an academic and institutional liaison with the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, which had been founded in 1913. This Art History Institute of the Max Planck Society focuses primarily on the art of the Renaissance and the Baroque in central and southern Italy, thus complementing the focus of the research work at the KHI, which is centered on northern Italian art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The close cooperation between Bibliotheca Hertziana and the KHI can also be expected to significantly strengthen Italian art history research at German universities.

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In future, the KHI will pursue three research perspectives: Firstly, possibilities for cooperation between art history and the sciences; secondly, the research of art and architecture of the 19th and 20th century - for example under the aspect of the growth of national identities as in Germany and Italy; and thirdly, the subject "Italian art and Europe" including the art of eastern Europe. In view of this extended research spectrum, it is intended to form a second department at the Art History Institute in Florence.

The Art History Institute was founded in 1897 by a private initiative of art historians and was initially mainly funded by the "Association for the Support of the Art History Institute in Florence" which was established the following year, as well as by private sponsors. Since 1970, the financial support for the Institute has come from the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. Since 1993 the Institute has been under the scientific guidance of Prof. Max Seidel. Currently, the Institute employs 35 staff members (including 14 scholars) and has a library of 215,000 volumes as well as a photographic archive comprising 550,000 photographs. Presently, one of the most important research projects is the compilation of a multi-volume catalogue on "The Churches of Siena".

The activities of the Institute include regular lectures, workshops and scientific congresses, as well as the publication "Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz" and the publication of various scientific series and individual volumes. It also offers an annual course of study for younger pre- and post-Ph.D academics from universities in German speaking countries.

To date the KHI has been housed in two buildings in the center of Florence: in the Palazzo Capponi Incontri and in the adjoining Palazzo Rosselli. In 1987, the Deutsche Bank - one of the sponsors of the properties together with the Thyssen Foundation and the Volkswagen Foundation - has purchased the Casa del Sarto-Zuccari directly opposite the two buildings. The edifice is in poor condition and badly in need of refurbishment. The first renovations are currently in the planning stage.

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