Originally founded in 1972 as the Section of Art History at the Institute of History, this institution was renamed in 1975 as the France Stele Institute of Art History after its first head, the leading Slovene art historian of the time and academician Dr. France Stele (1886–1972). He was a pioneer of Slovene art heritage protection and a leading conservator of monuments formed his doctrine of protection under the influence of the Vienna School of Art History, Alois Riegl and his mentor Max Dvořák.
Special studies are dedicated to the art of the Romanesque and Baroque periods and of the 19th century, and to the work of architect Jože Plečnik. The results of the researches also contribute to the preservation of artistic monuments, which represent essential components of Slovene national identity. Special attention is paid to exceptional individuals such as Jože Plečnik, Tomaž Hren, and Francesco Robba.
The institute's library includes some 15,000 works relating to art history and is part of the ZRC-SAZU central library. Information on recent acquisitions is accessible through the COBISS computer system, and older publications are catalogued in alphabetical files. The institute has topographic and personal card files of Slovene art monuments and artists, and a collection of photographs and slides. These are constantly being expanded with new information and research findings. Research results are published as scientific papers in the institute's own journal and other periodicals and in monographs, with emphasis laid on Baroque sculpture and painting.
The central scientific publication of the institute is the annual Acta Historiae Artis Slovenica. Current reviews of publications, exhibitions, interviews with art historians and artists is published in the quarterly Art Chronicle Bulletin that was launched in 2003.
In 2013 the publication Le sang et le lait dans l’imaginaire médiéval [Blood and Milk in the Medieval Imagery] by Jure Mikuž was published online in French language (cf. link below).
The institute collaborates with Slovene and foreign experts as well as with galleries, museums, heritage conservation organisations and art history institutes, both in Slovenia and abroad (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Hungary).
In collaboration with SAUR Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (AKL) the Institute of Art History collected a database of 3,688 artists that were active in Slovenia throughout history until the early-20th century. It is also a backbone for bibliographic and biographic encyclopaedia of artists working in Slovenia in the past.
Since 2014 the Institute has taken part in the EU project Women's Creativity since the Modern Movement (MoMoWo) that highlights the diverse contributions of women in design professions. The Institute closely collaborated with the Center for Architecture Slovenia.
The research group led by Dr. Barbara Murovec focuses on research about the Slovene artistic identity in Europe. Current topics of research deal with the Art Topography of Slovenia, the Valvasor Collection of Prints, Noble Maecenas and their Role in Sacral Art from the 16th to the 19th Century, etc.
The France Stele Institute of Art History also organises a 6-day Summer School focused on insights into field work methods of art topography.
Since 1990, in memory of France Stele an annual award for cultural heritage conservation achievements is given by the Association of Conservators of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia to meritorious art historians conservators and dedicated owners of the monuments.