As a research library dedicated to the study of all fields related to the Renaissance in Italy, the Biblioteca Berenson in effect originated only in 1961-62, as part of the new Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and in support of the Center’s cross-disciplinary and geographic/cultural-specific scholarly mission. Since then its collections have been developed with a focus primarily on the history, art history, music, literature and other aspects of the society and culture of Italy from about 1200 to 1650, and secondarily on related areas such as classical and medieval studies, the Mediterranean basin, and Renaissance Europe.
The Research Center’s library grew on the solid foundation of the outstanding private collection assembled by Bernard Berenson until his death in 1959, though in substantially different directions. Both the book and photo collections had great strengths in Italian art, especially painting and drawing of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Berenson’s professional specializations. Overall, however, the collection was much more general in character, and it had no particular emphasis either on the Renaissance or on Italian subjects. Berenson shaped the core of his library largely to illustrate the broad evolution of Western visual culture from antiquity through the Renaissance and well beyond. It thus included sizable and distinguished sections on Egyptian, Greek and Roman archaeology, as well as surprisingly broad representation of modern European art through the first half of the 20th century. The subjects of 19th and 20th century European and American history, society, culture, and literature also formed very substantial parts of the original library. When he died in 1959, the collection contained some 50,000 volumes, between monographs and periodicals, and perhaps as many as 170,000 photographs.
Today the Berenson Library has grown to hold approximately 170,000 volumes and pamphlets and some 250,000 photographs. It includes over 1,700 periodical titles of which 625 are currently received, and some 15,000 auction catalogs. Over 2,000 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and some 10,000 books printed before 1800 are held on microforms. In addition, from Berenson Library terminals patrons may access an extraordinary range of online resources through the HOLLIS catalog and other Harvard University Library sites.
Morrill Music Library
The Morrill Music Library is generally considered the finest reference library for medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. It was established as part of the Biblioteca Berenson in 1964, with funds given by F. Gordon and Elizabeth Morrill in honor of Mr. Berenson. Covering all Western music to 1630, its holdings currently number nearly 6,000 reference works and monographs and over 4,000 scores in print. The Morrill Library is particularly important for its holdings of original sources on microfilm. Beginning with the donation in 1975 of the Armen Carapetyan microfilm collection, the film collection has been steadily expanded and now contains over 2,000 manuscripts of early music and musical treatises and nearly 2,000 books of early printed music. A recently begun CD collection contains some 1,600 recordings of early music.
Asian and Islamic Collection
This small but distinguished collection attests largely to Bernard Berenson's fascination with the archeology, fine arts, and culture of East and South Asia and of the Islamic regions. It consists mainly of materials owned originally by him, and is now systematically developed only in those areas that relate broadly to Italy and Italian culture and society in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Asian and Islamic Collection contains some 3,400 books, including a large number of rare, limited and deluxe editions, and over 70 periodical titles, including 30 in complete runs and 17 currently received. Related to these materials but housed separately are over 1,000 auction sale catalogues of Islamic and Oriental art objects, miniatures, and carpets and, in the Photograph Archive, some 8,000 rare photographs of Far Eastern and Indian sculpture and painting as well as of monuments of Islamic architecture.
With its origins in the pioneering work of Bernard Berenson, the Fototeca, or Photograph Archive, has long been celebrated as an outstanding resource for the study of the history of art. Now holding around 250,000 photographic prints and other related materials, the still-growing collection contains photographs of artworks in many media ranging from classical antiquity to post-impressionism and from Europe and north Africa to south and east Asia. Its central focus, however, is Italian art, especially painting and drawing, of the later Middle Ages and Renaissance between 1250 and 1600, and it is only this part of the collection that continues to be developed systematically.
Like other historical photo archives, I Tatti’s is a repository both of images and of photographs as objects. Ranging in date from the 1880s to the present and representing the full range of photographic techniques, the photographs preserve a visual record of a vast array of artworks, including works that have since been destroyed or have otherwise disappeared from public view, or works at different stages of conservation. It is also an exceptional archive of documents. Many photos bear annotations by Berenson, his associates, or other scholars recording dates, provenance, shifting attributions and other information. The collection also holds related sources such as letters and clippings.
These visual and textual records document Berenson’s working methods and his influential career as art critic and connoisseur, and also furnish a wealth of evidence on individual works of art, for instance their passages through successive collections or art dealers’ hands, or traces of restorations over time. They throw critical light too on such general art historical issues as photography in the service of art history, the history of collecting, and the twentieth-century art market.
Several cataloging and digitization projects are currently underway to make especially significant sections or thematic groups of images held by the Photograph Archive more readily accessible online.
Manuscripts and Archives
The archive of the Berenson Library contains Bernard and Mary Berenson's published and unpublished manuscripts, notes, diaries, offprints of articles, biographical material, and personal photographs, as well as a large collection of letters written to the Berensons and a smaller collection of letters, copies or originals, written by Berenson, Mary, and Nicky Mariano. Over the years the archive has grown through donations or acquisitions of other collections. It now includes papers of Giorgio Castelfranco, Kenneth Clark, Andrea Francalanci, Frederick Hartt, Giuseppe Marchini, Emilio Marcucci, Nicky Mariano, Roberto and Livia Papini, Valeria Piacentini, Laurance P. and Isabel M. Roberts, Stanislaus Eric Stenbock, and the Whitall-Smith family, as well as extensive materials of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA), created after the 1966 flood and headquartered at I Tatti. Finding-aids are available within the library for most collections. For the Berensons' correspondence, see also An Inventory of Correspondence, compiled by Nicky Mariano (Florence: Villa I Tatti, 1965), currently being updated but still useful.
Requests to consult manuscript collections should be made to archivist Ilaria Della Monica.
The Auction catalog collection consists of 15.000 catalogs from the most important auction houses in Europe and America, ranging from the eighteenth century to the present. The subjects covered by the catalogs include not only old master paintings and Medieval and Renaissance art, but also books, manuscripts, antiquities, print music and Islamic art.