Ernst Steinmann




museum director. founding director.

Country of origin



Ernst Steinmann was born on September 4th, 1866 in Jördenstorf (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), son of protestant pastor Adolf Steinmann. Since 1887 he studied theology and art history in Tübingen, Rostock and Leipzig; among his teachers were Johannes Adolph Overbeck (1826-1895) and particularly Anton Springer (1825-1891). In 1891 Steinmann became scientific associate at the Archeological Institute in Leipzig, completing his dissertation on inscriptions and wall paintings in medieval churches in 1892. Since late 1893 Steinmann worked in Italy predominately in Rome and Florence where he dedicated his studies to Renaissance art, especially to Michelangelo who became his lifelong pivotal artist. Steinmann’s writings were often criticized for their wistful and lyrical style, but his publications had notable success also because of the outstanding quality of the photographic illustrations, many of them produced by Domenico Anderson (1854-1938). After his marriage with Olga von Gerstfeld (1866-1910) in June 1901, Steinmann became director of the Art Museum in Schwerin in 1903. He resigned the position in 1911 and moved to Rome. Since 1894 Steinmann was closely related to Henriette Hertz (1846-1913) and encouraged her early to build up a scientific library for scholarship in Art History in the Palazzo Zuccari in Rome. In 1913 Steinmann became the founding director of the Bibliotheca Hertziana which, after long negotiations, became one of the first institutes of the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (since 1948: Max-Planck Society). During the First World War Steinmann lived in Germany and continued working on his study on Napoleon’s “Kunstraub”, completely published only in 2007. At the end of 1919 he returned to Rome to reenter his position as director of the Bibliotheca Hertziana. Faced with declining health and the coming into power of the Nazi regime in Germany, Steinmann retired in 1934 naming Leo Bruhns (1884-1957) to become his successor. Though the scientific relevance of his own studies is not much valued today, Steinmann played a significant role in the development of studies in Italian Renaissance and Barock art. As director of the Bibliotheca Hertziana he promoted important research projects and supported the early career of eminent scholars such as Richard Krautheimer (1897-1994) and Rudolf Wittkower (1901-1971). Steinmann died on November 24th, 1934 in Basel. His burial place is in Rome.

historian's relations

Italian Renaissance Florence Rome Italy Michelangelo Germany Henriette Hertz Richard Krautheimer Pomerania Palazzetto Zuccari Leipzig University Max Planck Society University of Rostock Rudolf Wittkower Protestantism World War I Napoleon Anton Heinrich Springer Jördenstorf Kaiser Wilhelm Society Nazi Party

Main works

Steinmann, E. (1897). Die Tituli und die kirchliche Wandmalerei im Abendlande vom V. bis zum XI. Jahrhundert, Leipzig: Seemann

Steinmann, E. (1897). Botticelli, Bielefeld: Velhagen & Klasing

Steinmann, E. (1901-1905). Die Sixtinische Kapelle, 2 voll., Munich: Bruckmann

Steinmann, E. (1913). Die Portraitdarstellungen des Michelangelo, Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann

Steinmann, E., & Wittkower, R. (1927). Die Michelangelo-Bibliographie: 1510-1926. Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann

Steinmann, E. (2007). Der Kunstraub Napoleons, Ed. by Yvonne Dohna, Rome: Biblioteca Hertziana

About the scholar

Lehmann-Brockhaus, O. (1994). Ernst Steinmann: seine Persönlichkeit und die Entstehung der Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rom. Köln: Dumont Schauberg, 451-464

Tesche, D. (2002). Ernst Steinmann und die Gründungsgeschichte der Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rom (pp. 281-297), Munich: Hirmer

Grafinger, C.M. (1992). Die Auseinandersetzungen um die Michelangelo-Bibliothek Ernst Steinmanns in den Jahren 1935-38. Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (vol. 72, pp. 438-467)

Ebert-Schifferer, S. (2013). Ernst Steinmann (1866-1934). Der Gründungsdirektor des Instituts. In S. Ebert-Schifferer (Ed.). 100 Jahre Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte. Die Geschichte des Instituts 1913-2013. Munich, 36-61, 252-261


Nachlass Ernst Steinmann