Long before Bernard and Mary Berenson transformed the study and appreciation of Italian Renaissance art, they arrived separately as students at Harvard in 1884. Through photographs, documents, student writings, and scholarly essays, Berenson and Harvard: Bernard and Mary as Students offers engaging portrayals not only of the two students but also of Harvard College and the Harvard Annex in the late nineteenth century. The rare material includes Bernard’s essays and short stories published in the Harvard Monthly, the first chapter of Mary’s unpublished “A Life of Bernard Berenson” (cat. MS.IV.2), Bernard’s autobiographical sketch in his application for a Parker Fellowship (cat. BB.II.3), and his senior thesis on “Talmudo-Rabbinical Eschatology” (cat. BB.IV.1). An introductory essay (cat. BH.I.1) by the curator presents many of the works and themes in the exhibition.
In 1932, Edith Wharton wrote her friend Mary, then writing a biography of her husband, and encouraged her to include more details about Bernard's “Harvard days, when he was ‘stupor mundi’ to undergraduates and professors.” The next year, in the preface to A Modern Pilgrimage, Mary wrote that the celebrated library at I Tatti would be “for future students, who, as we hope, will benefit from the ‘Institute for Humanistic Studies’ which we mean to found under the auspices of our common university, Harvard.” In 1961, the first I Tatti Fellows arrived at the "Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies." In its fiftieth year of activity, the Center commemorates both Bernard and Mary with this online exhibition.
This exhibition gathers together primary sources from a number of Harvard libraries and archives, including the Biblioteca Berenson of Villa I Tatti, Houghton Library, the Harvard University Archives, and the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Finding Aids for the Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers and the Berenson Family Papers provide a more detailed window into the rich array of materials related to the Berensons at Harvard.
Navigating the Exhibition
This exhibition organizes the college experiences of Bernard Berenson and Mary Whitall Smith following a parallel structure that details their respective Academic Records, Intellectual Interests and Writings. The Cast of Characters includes thumbnail sketches of some of the main figures mentioned.
The eleven scholarly essays and twenty three Harvard Monthly articles are marked with a grey bee, the logo of B.B. (Bernard Berenson). Most of the longer pieces appear in PDF format together with fully-searchable transcriptions.