In his will dated 29 September 1998 Federico Zeri bequeathed the University of Bologna his villa at Mentana complete with the collection of Roman epigraphs, the art library and photo archive.

The basis for this decision was the relationship of mutual trust and esteem that had developed between Federico Zeri, the scholar Anna Ottani Cavina and the University of Bologna.
On 6 February 1998 the Bologna University Rector, Fabio Roversi Monaco, had conferred on Zeri an honorary degree in History of Art.

Bologna University created the Fondazione Federico Zeri, recognised by the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage on 12 September 2000. The President was Rector Fabio Roversi Monaco.

The Presidency of the Foundation passed to the new Rector Pier Ugo Calzolari, who took some strategic decisions and secured resources on a large scale with which to launch the scientific activity.

Anna Ottani Cavina was appointed Director of the Foundation, where she remained until 2014.

The Foundation's Bologna premises were inaugurated in the Renaissance Convent of Santa Cristina, which also houses the University Department of Visual Arts.

The Zeri Library and Photo Archive were opened to the public.

Rector Ivano Dionigi took over the Presidency.

Andrea Bacchi was appointed Director of the Foundation.

Rector Francesco Ubertini took over the Presidency.
Anna Ottani Cavina was appointed honorary President.