Nineteen eighty-eight marked the hundredth anniversary of Bernard Berenson’s first coming into Italy. The event was crucial in Berenson’s biography, but its import goes far beyond this private meaning: it marks the inception of an accomplishment in the study and understanding of Italian art that we may characterize as the most embracing, and possibly the most influential, of this century. Art historians, and the wider public also, should remember with gratitude the moment at which it was determined that this accomplishment should come to be. Berenson was then only twenty-three, a young man of exceptional intelligence, attractiveness, and culture. He had graduated a year before from Harvard College, where he had devoted himself mainly to the study of languages and literature. Church-mouse poor, he had managed with subventions from wealthy friends (Isabella Stewart Gardner especially) to spend the intervening year in Europe, principally in...


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