The Belle Greene–Bernard Berenson Letters Project

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 was the Italian Renaissance art historian, scholar, and connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865–1959). Following their introduction in early 1908, Greene and Berenson maintained a decades-long epistolary relationship (which occasionally became more intimate than letter-writing). 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.

The correspondence sheds light not only on library and museum development in the early twentieth century and the history of collecting (from both art historical and bibliographic perspectives), but also on broader topics such as the urban development of New York City and the history of race in America, especially in the Jim Crow era. (The daughter of the prominent African American civil rights activist Richard T. Greener, Greene passed as White from the time she was in her late teens.)

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. We plan to make the first group of transcriptions available in late 2023.

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

Morgan Library & Museum Project Staff

Project Directors
Daria Rose Foner, Research Associate to the Director
Philip Palmer, Robert H. Taylor Curator and Department Head, Literary and Historical Manuscripts

Project Specialists
Zoe Braccia, RealArts@Penn Intern
Nicholas Caldwell, Belle da Costa Greene Fellow

Alison Bleznick, Collection Information Services
Alysha Colon, Director’s Office
James Donchez, Conservation
Meghan Fletcher, Visitor Services
Ariana Joubert,Visitor Services
Kelsey Malanowski, Visitor Services
Maya Wilson, Visitor Services

I Tatti Project Staff

Ilaria Della Monica, Head Archivist
Lukas Klic, Head of Digital Humanities Research
Michael Rocke, Nicky Mariano Librarian and Director of the Biblioteca Berenson
Daniele Fratini, Imaging Services Assistant
Serena Pellegrino, Research Intern and Project Specialist

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