Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908)


(Harvard Professor of Fine Arts and of Art History, translator and lecturer on Dante)

Norton came from a family of Unitarian ministers with deep Boston roots. His appointment as Harvard's first professor of art history was part of a systemic shift toward an understanding of art history as a true academic discipline; this began in Europe with the work of Norton's friend John Ruskin and the German scholar Jacob Burckhardt. In Berenson’s final year at Harvard University he enrolled in Norton’s course on Dante’s Commedia and the Vita Nova, in addition to his two-semester art history course on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  These lectures championing the value of Italian art were formative for Berenson. They not only introduced him to a part of art history that was to become his area of expertise but also provided him with a position against which to form his views: Norton's exaltation of the moral qualities of art, his preference for Medieval art, and his dismissal of Berenson's early idol, Pater.

Click to view his entry in the online dictionary of art historians.