The photographic collection goes back to the collection of approximately 11,500 photographs put together by Henriette Hertz and Ernst Steinmann and bequeathed to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society as part of the Bibliotheca Hertziana in 1913. Today the collection has holdings of more than 800,000 photographs, negatives and digital images of Italian art in all media from antiquity to the beginning of the twentieth century.
At the heart of the collection are Roman and Italian topography, and the »virtual cabinet of drawings« consisting of Old Master drawings, architectural drawings and drawings after antiquities as well as the complete Corpus Photographicum of Drawings (Corpus Gernsheim). A special niche is devoted to the holdings of the »Le Blanc Illustré« reproductive prints project.
The collection is continuously expanded through photographic campaigns, systematic purchases and the acquisition of archives (for example the Archivio Cesare D'Onofrio) and photographic estates of renowned art historians (Richard Krautheimer, Hanno Hahn, Heinrich Mathias Schwarz, Hanno-Walter Kruft, Hans Werner Schmidt and others).