• Agents of Change

    • This expert advised the most important art collections of the West, guiding the acquisition of their best pieces.

    The crystal eye: Bernard Berenson and the art of attribution / 

    Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the pioneers of of knowledge conquests erected themselves as the protagonists of transgressing feats which pushed the limits of man and nature. An expedition to Africa or the development of a flying artefact reinforced the stand of a transgressing man from a golden generation; bearing an iron will which would define the future. These great characters are permeated by a mist characterized by equal amounts of idolatry, admiration and content.

    There have always been a handful of men who have strived to accomplish greatness. During an important period for Art History, when the greatest collections were patiently assembled, Bernard Berenson (Lithuania, 1865-1959) was known in the highest circles of cultural appreciation and art. Recognised for his fluidness of speech, his ample knowledge of different languages and his expertise in the field of Italian art of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, this man defined the way works of art were attributed, criticized and evaluated.

    The numerous anecdotes surrounding the life and work of this historian speak of his inquisitive, relentless and scholarly personality. He was able to generate a significant fortune due to the opulent American and European society of the nineteenth century which, eager to collect the great works of masterly painters, paid fortunes to be assessed in their acquisitions, shaping some of the best known collections today. It is easy to consider him one of the most relevant pioneers in the branch of art attributions.

    Endowed with striking skills and some of the most extensive knowledge from the universities of  Harvard and Boston; many however believed he took too many liberties when it came to appreciating a work. Practicing a method that contained more rhetoric than rigour to research the piece, he would benefit from being a connoisseur, the sensations the pieces evoke and the visual experience, while he also conceded an ample margin to influence the art market and its burgeoning appraisal rules.

    He is an essential scholar in the understanding of some of the most crucial centuries of Western art, he influenced many generations of scholars around the world. His lofty eloquence with a pen made and legitimised him before an ample spectrum of audiences that appreciate art. Berenson is now remembered as an agent of change that inaugurated the resurgence of criticism and the attributions of the art world.  

    Tagged: Bernard Berenson, art, museums, curators, art collections, Agents of Change Credits: Image (Bernard Berenson, Rome, 1955. Price Upon Request. David Seymour)