The Belle Greene–Bernard Berenson Letters Project

Traveling the long distance from New York City to Florence, the letters of Belle Greene to Bernard Berenson document one of the art world’s most fascinating relationships. Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950), the Morgan’s pathbreaking inaugural director, attracted considerable attention both in the press and from her many admirers, among them the Italian Renaissance art historian, scholar, and connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865–1959). Following their introduction in early 1909, Greene and Berenson maintained a decades-long epistolary relationship, occasionally sharing time together in Europe or America: they were lovers, but also friends and intellectual peers.

While Greene seems to have destroyed Berenson’s letters to her, hers to him remain at I Tatti, the former home of Bernard and his wife, Mary, on the outskirts of Florence, now the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. These letters, which span the period February 1909 to March 1949, constitute by far the most substantial surviving archive of personal papers associated with Greene.

The Greene–Berenson Letters Project, conceived in partnership with I Tatti, will result in a publicly available digital platform featuring high-resolution images accompanied by full-text transcriptions and rich metadata documenting the names, places, and subjects mentioned in the letters. This project is one of a number of digital resources being developed in advance of a major exhibition on Belle Greene’s life and career that will be held at the Morgan in 2024 to mark the centenary of its founding as a public institution.

In late 2019 the Morgan assumed the cost of digitizing the four boxes of the Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers at I Tatti that contain the letters Greene wrote to Berenson. Coinciding with the museum’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2020, a team at the Morgan composed of colleagues from numerous departments began to transcribe the letters, which number over 600. The project will launch in fall 2024.

Theodore C. Marceau (1859–1922), Belle da Costa Greene (reading), May 1911
Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

Unknown photographer, Bernard Berenson standing in front of the Domenico Veneziano's Madonna and Child, 1903
Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

Belle Greene, autograph letter to Bernard Berenson, dated February 23, 1909
Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers, Box 60, Folder 1
Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies

The Morgan Library & Museum
Philip S. Palmer, Co-Founder and Director, Curator and Department Head of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, Morgan Library & Museum

Former Project Staff
Daria Rose Foner, Co-Founder and former Co-Director (now at Sotheby’s)
Nicholas Caldwell, Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellow (now at New York Public Library)
Zoe Braccia, RealArts @ Penn Intern, Summer 2020
Lauren Davis, RealArts @ Penn Intern, Summer 2022
Serena Pellegrino, Harvard/I Tatti Intern, Summer 2021

Staff Transcribers
Alison Bleznick
Alysha Colon
James Donchez
Meghan Fletcher
Ariana Joubert
Kelsey Malanowski
Maya Wilson

I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies
Michael Rocke, Nicky Mariano Librarian, Director of the Biblioteca Berenson
Ilaria Della Monica, Head Archivist
Lukas Klic, Head of Digital Humanities Research, Manager of Information Services & Digital Initiatives
Daniele Fratini, Imaging Services Assistant
Remo Grillo, Digital Humanities Research Associate, Digital Research Infrastructure for the Humanities


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