Bernard Berenson, the Making of a Legend

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Harvard University Press, 1987 - Biography & Autobiography - 680 pages

Controversy swirls around Bernard Berenson today as it did in his middle years, before and between two world wars. Who was this man, this supreme connoisseur of Italian Renaissance painting? How did he support his elegant estate near Florence, his Villa I Tatti? What exactly were his relations with the art dealer Joseph Duveen? What part did his wife, Mary, play in his scholarly work and professional career? The answers are to be found in the day-to-day record of his life as he lived it--as reported at first hand in his and Mary's letters and diaries and reflected in the countless personal and business letters they received. His is one of the most fully documented lives of this century. Ernest Samuels, having spent twenty years studying the thousands of letters and other manuscripts, presents his story in absorbing detail.

Berenson helped Isabella Stewart Gardner build her great collection and performed similar though lesser services for other wealthy Americans. It was merely an avocation and a useful source of income; his vocation was scholarship. But after 1904, when the book opens, his expertise was in ever-greater demand: a purchaser's only assurance of the authorship of an Italian painting was the opinion of an expert, and in this field Berenson was pre-eminent. Increasingly he was drawn into the lucrative world of the art dealers; inevitably Joseph Duveen found it essential to enlist his services, at first ad hoc, then by contractual agreement. Samuels charts the course of Berenson's long association with Duveen Brothers, detailing the financial arrangements, the humdrum chores and major contested attributions, the periodic clashes between the stubborn scholar and the arrogant entrepreneur.

The portrayal of Berenson's relationship with Mary is especially intriguing: a union of opposites in all but brains and wit, bonded--despite love affairs, jealousies, recriminations--no longer by passion but by shared concerns. Impinging on their lives are those of a huge circle of friends and acquaintances in America and the beau monde of Europe. Both as biography and as a chapter of social and cultural history, it is a compelling book.

 

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Bernard Berenson: the making of a legend

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Impelled by the vastness of his chief source (letters, diaries, personal and business items of the Berenson Archive at I Tatti) the author has provided a fitting companion to his Bernard Berenson: the ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue i
3
The Missionaries Return
5
A Man of the World
13
in Throes of the North Italians
23
Pathway to Duveen
31
The Fourth Gospel
41
A Home in Exile
49
Matisse and the Highroad of Art
59
The Case of La Belle Ferroniere
311
The Archaeology of Art
321
XXXIH On the Way to Truth
331
The Two Sposini
339
The End of Profit Sharing
352
Afloat on a Golden Flood
362
xxxvir Prince of Art Critics
374
The Role of Art History
401

America the Plutocratic
69
The Pursuit of Life Enhancement
80
The Red Robe
88
The Ixion Wheel of Business
99
Idyll with Belle da Costa Greene
109
xni A Marital Truce
119
The Merchants and the Expert
139
Last Season of the Belle Epoque
152
xvn America Revisited
167
The Darkening of Europe
177
A Time for Writing
191
Paris in Wartime
202
Venetians Restudied and Leonardo Dethroned
212
xxn From Art Expert to Military Adviser
219
xxm Domestic Crisis
229
The Dragons Eggs
239
Spoils of War and Art
249
An American Bacchus
260
An Island of Relative Solitude
268
Suspect in the Promised Land
280
Early Art and the Land of the Pharaohs
290
Germany and the Stelloni dltalia
301
Life in Mussolinia
411
The Allendale Nativity
428
XLIH The Drawings Revisited
440
xnv Toward the Abyss
451
Travels into Self
465
The Peace of Le Fontanelle
478
Patriarch of Florence
491
XLVIH At Home in the House of Life
503
Paradoxical Talmudist
516
Master of the Inn
526
Garnering the Past
539
The Last Aesthete
550
Doctor of Letters and Philosophy
560
Toward a Humanistic Priesthood
571
A Scene from Rembrandt
581
Selected Bibliography
597
Notes
611
The Flavor of Dust and Ashes 127
621
xxxvui A New Disciple 384
641
The Book of Revelation 395
642
Index
661
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About the author (1987)

Ernest Samuels is Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English, Emeritus, Northwestern University.

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