Bernard Berenson's Cinquecentine: Inspirations from the Sixteenth-Century Accademia Fiorentina (I Tatti Studies, 2017, 1)

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Bernard Berenson's Cinquecentine: Inspirations from the Sixteenth-Century Accademia Fiorentina (I Tatti Studies, 2017, 1)
  Bernard Berenson ’ s Cinquecentine:Inspirations from the Sixteenth-Century Accademia Fiorentina  Angela Dressen,  Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies If there be such an unimaginable thing as survival, may my spirit haunt this library, andenjoy it physically as I can no longer. 1 (Bernard Berenson) WHAT THE BERENSON LIBRARY , part of the Harvard University Center forItalian Renaissance Studies in Florence, is known for today represents only a por-tion of Bernard Berenson ’ s reading interests. 2 It respects precisely neither Ber-enson ’ s business activities as an art dealer for Italian Renaissance objects nor hisscholarly work on Renaissance paintings, which shaped but a small part of it.The book collection also does not exactly mirror Berenson ’ s srcinal plan to opena cultural center for the arts and humanities, an idea that was then altered. WhenHarvard University instituted a Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, the library had to be stocked to  󿬁 ll in gaps or to create sections ad hoc that were totally non-existent(suchasthemusicsection).Berenson ’ soriginallibrarydidhave,ontheonehand, a focus on Italian Renaissance painting; on the other hand, it also attemptedto be a universal library of the humanities, going far beyond the Renaissance. Thismeans that the collection was not limited to Italy or to a certain period but incor- Contact Angela Dressen at Villa I Tatti, Via di Vincigliata 22, Florence 50135, Italy ( would like to express thanks to my attentive readers Ruth Abbott, Kathryn Brush, and MichaelRocke and to the anonymous peer reviewer, as well as to Ilaria Della Monica for the help with archivaldocuments.1. Bernard Berenson,  Sunset and Twilight: From the Diaries of 1947  – 1958  ed. Nicky Mariano andIris Origo (London, 1963), 504 (November 10, 1957).2. On the modern history of the library after Bernard Berenson ’ s death, see Martin Faigel,  “ Beren-son Library (Biblioteca Berenson), ”  Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science  2 (1969): 335 – 43;Michael Rocke,  “ The Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, ”  Art Libraries Journal   33 (2008): 5 – 9. I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance , volume 20, number 1. © 2017 by Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. All rights reserved. 0393-5949/2017/2001-0008$10.00 229 This content downloaded from on May 10, 2017 01:04:24 AMAll use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (  porated international humanities, which onlyreally excluded science andmusic, asBerensonhimself described: “ Whattreasuresinevery  󿬁 eldofart. Scarcelyanything missing that really counts, from the whole world.  . . .  Photos and magni 󿬁 cent re-productions of not only Italian and Greek and Roman art, but of every province of Antiquity, or Far Eastern, or Indian, or pre-Columbian American. They give methe only real satisfaction that my so-long and so-varied past can still offer me, andIcannothelp. ” 3 DescribingBerensoninhis readinginterests asa palpableomnivore,with a mind easily caught and stimulated, probably best explains this vast collection,spanning America and Africa to the Far East, with Europe as its focus. Looking through the old account books of library acquisitions gives an idea of the efforts thatwere made to retrieve this diverse body of literature.Looking at Berenson ’ s rare book collection offers a completely different picture,however.Givenhisinterests inItalianGothicandRenaissance painting, onewouldexpect to  󿬁 nd some illustrated manuscripts and a variety of incunables. Both cat-egories must have been easy to possess for an art dealer who obtained preciousmanuscripts and paper rolls from many parts of the world, Persia and China in-cluded. Yet there is hardly any such thing: despite the fact that Berenson was very knowledgeableaboutmedievalmanuscriptsandillustrations, 4 noilluminatedman-uscripts are to be found, and his incunables amount to only three, where even theusually richly illustrated Dante commentary by Cristoforo Landino was acquiredin one of the few editions without woodcuts. 5 The picture is different for his Cin-quecentine collection. It re 󿬂 ects a separate interest of Berenson ’ s, concentratedin an area otherwise not very obvious. This collection seems to represent an at-tempt tore-create thelibraryof asixteenth-century Florentine member ofan acad-emy, with respect to the size, topics, and languages present, although Berenson de-clared that he never bought  “ a book for its rarity from a collector ’ s point of view. ” 6 IfBerenson may be described as an art collector, as testi 󿬁 ed by his marvelous col- 3. Berenson,  Sunset and Twilight  , 503 – 4 (November 10, 1957). In the last years before his death,Berenson made quite frequent remarks in his diary about the library and often called it the only realsatisfaction of his life.4. See Nicky Mariano ’ s narration on how Berenson impressed the librarian at Aschaffenburg withhis knowledge of medieval manuscripts. Nicky Mariano,  Forty Years with Berenson  (New York, 1966),53 – 54; see also 92 – 93 about another occasion Berenson spent in libraries to study manuscripts.5. Cristoforo Landino,  Comento sopra la Divina commedia  (Venice, 1484); Leon Battista Alberti,  Dere aedi  󿬁 catoria  (Florence, 1485); Aeneas Piccolomini,  Epistolae familiares  (Nuremberg, 1496). How-ever, Berenson bought a modern edition containing the woodcuts of three different  󿬁 fteenth-century editions of Landino ’ s commentary:  Figure quattrocentesche della Divina commedia: Tratte dalle edizionidi Firenze, per Nicholo di Lorenzo della Magna, 1481; Brescia, per Boninum de Boninis di Raguxi, 1487;Venezia, per Bernardino Benali & Matthio da Parma, 1491  (Turin, 1911).6. Bernard Berenson,  Sketch for a Self-Portrait   (London, 1949), 137. 230  |  I TATTI STUDIES IN THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE SPRING 2017 This content downloaded from on May 10, 2017 01:04:24 AMAll use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (  lection of Tuscan painting and oriental sculpture, then he certainly may also  󿬁 g-ure among important rare book collectors. In this  󿬁 eld, however, his major fo-cus was on titles published in Italy. Compared to the main part of the library,Berenson ’ s collection of Cinquecentine is less expansive than one may expect.TheBerensonLibrarytodaypossessesatotalof218booksfromthesixteenthcen-tury, of which 105 date from Berenson ’ s time, plus  󿬁 fteen Cinquecentine that arenow lost. 7 This makes a total of 120 Cinquecentine that Berenson held in his col-lection. Out of these thirty-four are considered rare books with only up to ten ex-emplars knownin worldwide library catalogs, withthe majority, exactly eighteen,being much rarer, with up to  󿬁  ve copies known. Therefore, 28 percent of Beren-son ’ s Cinquecentine are rare examples, and 15 percent are close to being uniquecopies, judging from surviving exemplars. 8 Berenson started his Cinquecentine collection with a clear choice that he wouldmaintain for the rest of his life: he nearly exclusively bought early printed booksthat would be dear to a  “ studioso, ”  a person who presumably read most of thesetexts. He was not a book collector in the classical sense, someone who wouldbuy manuscripts or illuminated books that were nice to look at. That these wouldhave been available, and also in great quantity, is testi 󿬁 ed by the plenitude of ar-chival records for imported books from England, Germany, and France. As therecords in the Soprintendenza per le Esportazioni ed Importazioni in Florenceshow, for the  󿬁 rst two decades of the twentieth century, for example, the LibreriaAntiquaria editor Leo S. Olschki imported a variety of books of hours, bibles, psal-ters, illuminated manuscripts, and some classical and patristic texts, most of themmanuscripts and very few published. The so-called Libreria Voynich, situated inLondon, sent illuminated manuscripts, books of hours, psalters, bibles, and clas-sical texts to its Florentine seat. And other smaller active booksellers buying booksfrom England, Germany, and France show that this must have been standard.Most of these purchases were manuscripts, either religious texts or richly illumi-nated bibles or books of hours from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century andproduced mainly in Italy, although some also came from France. The taste forlate medieval and Renaissance art was certainly growing in Italy, since other artobjects, such as panel paintings, furniture, and carpets, also date from these cen-turies. Very few printed books  󿬁 gure in the records because even rare and early printed books were not yet considered valuable objects and therefore probably did 7. Some early printed books were given away right after Berenson ’ s death.8. To brie 󿬂 y mention the seventeenth-century books today in the library, a smaller percentagedates back to Berenson ’ s time, while the majority probably came through bequests. The seventeenth-century books from Berenson ’ s time also concentrate on publications from Italy in Italian. Bernard Berenson ’  s Cinquecentine  |  231 This content downloaded from on May 10, 2017 01:04:24 AMAll use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (  not need to be documented. Moreover, the price was often much the same asthat of modern editions.Berenson studied medieval andRenaissance manuscripts thesame wayhe stud-ied paintings: in front of the srcinal and with photos he took home and added tohis vast photo collection. He actually possessed several hundred photographs of il-luminated manuscripts of the eleventh to the  󿬁 fteenth century but hardly any re-productions from a  󿬁 fteenth- or sixteenth-century printed book. 9 Incunables arenot well represented even among the reproductions, for several reasons. In termsof illustrations, the often more splendidly decorated manuscript offered better ma-terial for questions of attribution or for comparisons with paintings. The  󿬁 fteenthcentury had less to offer in terms of art theory and art criticism, what Berensonwould really be interested in (as we will see). These circumstances did not mean thatBerenson was not informed about  󿬁 fteenth-century print illustrations, such aswoodcuts. His work on Renaissance painters focused on their entire oeuvre, panelpaintings, cassone paintings, and woodcuts included, as can be seen in his essay on “ Alunno di Domenico ”  (Bartolommeo di Giovanni), one of the most importantwoodcut illustrators in Florence at the end of the  󿬁 fteenth century. 10 But we do notknow where Berenson studied these objects — presumably in other libraries (see n. 3). 9. AmongtheworksBerensonstudiedinreproductions,there 󿬁 gureamongthemedievalItalianandEastern manuscripts works such as an eleventh-century   Vita Sancti Benedicti  from the Vatican Library,a twelfth-century Beneventan Chronicon S. Sophiae (Vatican Library), the twelfth-century Bible fromTodi (Vatican Library), the eleventh-century psalter of Farfa (Vatican Library), a Russian eleventh-century psalter (museum in Cividale), an Armenian Evangeliar from the thirteenth century (WaltersArt Museum in Baltimore), an Emilian Bible around 1300 (Walters Art Museum in Baltimore), andminiatures from a thirteenth-century Bible (Biblioteca Comunale in Catania), which he listed underCavallini ’ s followers (as noted on the photographs). From the fourteenth and 󿬁 fteenthcentury, he stud-ied, for example a  󿬁 fteenth-century text by Pope Pius II with typical Florentine vegetative boards andinitials, several fourteenth-century choral books from Bologna, a  󿬁 fteenth-century manuscript of Dante ’ s  Divine Comedy   (Biblioteca Queriniana in Brescia), a late  󿬁 fteenth-century richly illuminatedmanuscript by the Florentine miniaturist Attavante (Duomo di Chieti), a  󿬁 fteenth-century choralbook from the cathedral in Chiusi with illuminated initials (attributed on the photograph to a min-iaturist and Domenico di Bartolo), and a  󿬁 fteenth-century illuminated manuscript attributed to aFerrarese painter close to Lorenzo Costa on the back (Cleveland Museum of Art).10. Bernard Berenson,  “ Alunno di Domenico, ”  Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs  1 (1903): 6 – 20, see 18 – 20 (I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for pointing me to this article). Berenson ’ sresearch on Italian illuminated manuscripts and woodcuts went into his  The Drawings of the FlorentinePainters: Classi  󿬁 ed, Criticised and Studied as Documents in the History and Appreciation of Tuscan Art,with a Copious Catalogue Raisonné  , 2 vols. (London, 1903) but also resulted in more speci 󿬁 c stud-ies, such as  “ Un antiphonaire avec miniatures par Lippo Vanni, ”  La Gazette des beaux-arts  9 (1924):257 – 85,  “ Due illustratori italiani dello Speculum Humanae Salvationis, ”  Bollettino d  ’  arte  5 (1926):1 – 64,  Speculum humanæ salvationis Being a Reproduction of an Italian Manuscript of the FourteenthCentury  , described and prefaced by M. R. James, with a discussion of the school and date by BernardBerenson (Oxford, 1926), and  Italian Manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library: Descriptive Sur-vey of the Principal Illuminated Manuscripts of the Sixth to Sixteenth Centuries, with a Selection of Im- 232  |  I TATTI STUDIES IN THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE SPRING 2017 This content downloaded from on May 10, 2017 01:04:24 AMAll use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (  ACQUISITION RECORDS FOR EARLY PRINTED BOOKS As early as 1898, Berenson started to acquire rare Cinquecentine, even before hemoved to I Tatti and established his personal library there. The  󿬁 rst documentedbook he acquired was Pietro Aretino ’ s  Ragionamento del divino Pietro Aretino nel quale si parla del gioco con moralita piacevole , part of his four  Ragionamenti , ded-icated to courtly life and games, written in his usual satirical and detached manner.This was one of the few books Berenson collected from outside Italy; it was printedin London, at the press of Giovanni Andrea del Melograno in 1589 (1st ed. Venice,1534). 11 Although Berenson himself traveled to London on a regular basis, he pur-chased this book in Florence through B. Seeber at an auction (Asta Franchi) shortly before the end of the year (for 1,515 lire). The  Ragionamento  was most likely ac-quired together with another book by Aretino, his  Quattro commedie del divinoPietro Aretino  ( Cioé Il marescalco, La cortigiana, La talanta, L ’  hipocrito ), also pub-lished in London in 1588 and also acquired through Seeber for the same amountof 1,515 lire (or possibly the price was for both books together). 12 Most likely   Lecose meravigliose dell  ’  alma città di Roma  (Rome, 1589) was also acquired fromSeeber for 325 lire on the same occasion. 13 In the following year, 1899, Berensonacquired probably another three Cinquecentine, all from the rare book dealer EnricoTozzi in Siena: Antonio Campi,  Cremona fedelissima città  (Cremona, 1585), 14 Lodo- vico Dolce,  Dialogo della pittura  (Venice, 1557), 15 and Dante Alighieri,  Dante conl  ’  esposizione di Christoforo Landino ,  et di Alessandro Vellutello  (Venice, 1564). 16 These  󿬁 rst purchases of early printed books were not very rare exemplars or par-ticularly costly, and they fall into the period when Berenson was still short of money and looking for a way to make his living. The next secure purchase dates  portant Letters and Documents , catalog compiled by Meta Harrsen and George K. Boyce, with an in-troduction by Bernard Berenson (New York, 1953).11. Bernard and Mary Berenson, Papers, 1880 – 2002, Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti — the Har- vard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, book collection: inventories of books (hereafterBMBP-BC), Book invoices 1898: B. Seeber, Firenze, 27.12.1898,  “ Aretino, Ragionamento, L. 1515 ” (from vendor catalog of rare books, Asta Franchi Cat. 144). Acquisition number 15.197 in Inventory of books, vol. 1 (nos. 1 – 18.500, p. 411), no date/wrong publication date (1588).12. BMBP-BC, Book invoices 1898: B. Seeber, Firenze, 27.12.1898,  “ Aretino, Quattro comedie,L. 1515 ”  (from vendor catalog of rare books, Asta Franchi Cat. 144). Acquisition number 15.197 inInventory of books, vol. 1 (nos. 1 – 18.500, p. 411), no date.13. BMBP-BC, Book invoices 1898: B. Seeber, Firenze, 27.12.1898:  “ Le cose meravigliose di Roma,L. 325 ”  (from vendor catalog of rare books, Asta Franchi Cat. 144). This book is lost today.14. BMBP-BC, Book invoices 1899: purchased from Enrico Tozzi, Siena, 10.4.1899,  “ Guida di Cre-mona, 1/2 tela verdastra, 1.25).15. BMBP-BC, Book invoices 1899: purchased from Enrico Tozzi, Siena, 10.4.1899, for 1.25 lire.Acquisition number 1297 in Inventory of books, vol. 1 (nos. 1 – 18.500, p. 36), no date.16. BMBP-BC, Book invoices 1899: purchased through Enrico Torrini, Siena, 10.4.1899,  “ 3 vol. inpergamena all ’ antica 7.50 ”  for 37.50 lire. Bernard Berenson ’  s Cinquecentine  |  233 This content downloaded from on May 10, 2017 01:04:24 AMAll use subject to University of Chicago Press Terms and Conditions (
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