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On the Origin of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

Photo of Bernard Berenson

Bernard Berenson

In 1900, the eminent historian and critic of late medieval and Renaissance art, Bernard Berenson, took up residence at Villa I Tatti. He continued to live there until his death in 1959. In his will, he bequeathed the estate, located on the outskirts of Florence, and his vast collection of books, photographs, and works of art to Harvard University, from which he had received an A.B. in 1887.

In leaving I Tatti to Harvard, Berenson wished to establish a center of scholarship that would advance humanistic learning throughout the world and increase understanding of the values by which civilizations develop and survive. He particularly wanted to give younger scholars at a critical point in their careers the opportunity to develop and expand their interests and talents.

The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti is devoted to advanced study of the Italian Renaissance in all its aspects: the history of art; political, economic, and social history; the history of science, philosophy, and religion; and the history of literature and music.

Each year, an international selection committee nominates some 12–15 post-doctoral scholars in the early stages of their careers to become I Tatti Fellows. In addition, I Tatti’s scholarly community includes fifteen Research Associates from the Italian academic world, a number of Visiting Scholars and Visiting Professors invited for varying lengths of time, and the Director. The members of the academic community come from institutions across the United States and around the world. Normally, they are members of university and college faculties or of library and museum staffs. Representing a wide variety of interests and methods within the broad area of Renaissance studies, they come to I Tatti for independent study and research both at the Biblioteca Berenson and in other libraries, archives, and collections in Florence and throughout Italy, as well as for the opportunity to think and write, free from their usual academic responsibilities.

Villa I Tatti provides the resources of its unique library, which contains approximately 130,000 volumes and an archive of more than 300,000 photographs and other visual materials (the Fototeca Berenson); the library also subscribes to nearly 500 learned journals. Each Fellow is given a study and the opportunity to associate daily with other members of the I Tatti community as well as with the many distinguished Renaissance scholars who continually visit and use the library. A regular series of lectures is sponsored by the Center, and international conferences of an exploratory, usually interdisciplinary, nature are held every year or so at Villa I Tatti. There is also an active publication program including the biennial journal, I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance.

The Center was founded on the principle that maturing scholars working independently will profit from close association with each other, with leading senior scholars, and with other experts of various interests, ages, nationalities, and levels of achievement. The interchange of ideas and information among scholars with different specialties characterizes both formal and informal communication at I Tatti.

Mr. Berenson’s dream of a cultural center where the heritage of the past would be preserved and fruitfully studied has been realized at I Tatti to an extent even he could not have anticipated. The long list of highly distinguished publications that have emanated from the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in the more than three decades of its existence, the roster of world-renowned scholars who have been Fellows, and the often moving testimonials of all who have been involved with this institution combine to attest the important position I Tatti occupies in Italian Renaissance studies today.

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