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Bernard Berenson (1865–1959)
Bernard Berenson (1865–1959)

Bernard (“BB”) Berenson was an art historian and a renowned connoisseur of Italian Renaissance painting and drawing. He was born Bernhard Valvrojenski on June 26, 1865, in Lithuania to a Jewish family that emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1875, whereupon the family name was changed to Berenson. He received a BA degree in 1887 from Harvard University, where he studied under Charles Eliot Norton (18271908), who introduced him to the Boston collector Isabella Stewart Gardner (18401924). He subsequently helped to form her Renaissance art collection and those of a number of prominent Americans, especially through his association with the dealer Joseph Duveen. A follower of the method of Giovanni Morelli (1816–1891), Berenson published books on Florentine, Sienese, and Venetian painting, working from his home and library at Villa I Tatti, in Settignano near Florence, which he had acquired in 1900. His wife Mary Berenson (1864–1945), also an art historian, contributed to his work, especially in his early years. Berenson was a friend of Edith Wharton and an acquaintance of Mildred Barnes Bliss, Robert Woods Bliss, and Royall Tyler. He died on October 6, 1959, at the Villa I Tatti, which, with its contents, was willed to Harvard University and is now the Biblioteca Berenson and the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

Dictionary of Art Historians, s.v., "Berenson, Bernard, né Bernhard Valvrojenski [first name early appearing as Bernhard until 1914]; known to friends as "BB," "Doris" (code name by the firm of Duveen)."

Ernest Samuels, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979).

Ernest Samuels, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Legend (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1987).