Building I Tatti's Library

The library's historical nucleus

Small LibrarySoon after the Berensons purchased I Tatti in 1907 they began to enlarge the original house under the supervision of architect Cecil Pinsent, with the assistance of Geoffrey Scott. Their plans included the construction of a suitably grand library to hold the rapidly growing collection of books and photographs. In just a few years their library took shape, and it remains to this day as the monumental and essential heart of a greatly expanded complex.

The library's original room, the spacious hall now known as the Berenson Reading Room, with its high vaulted ceiling, two great windows, walnut bookcases lining the walls, and a massive stone fireplace, was completed in 1909. The Berensons quickly commissioned the painter René Piot to fresco the lunettes of the library with scenes from Virgil’s Georgics, but the results fell far below their expectations and the artist was dismissed in 1910 after decorating only four of the room’s twelve lunettes. The room’s beautiful cabinetry, besides holding books and photographs, was and still is decorated with numerous sculptures, objects, and paintings from the art collection.

A low and narrow room, the intimate “Small Library,” was added to the back of this original room in 1911. The uniform historical core of the library was completed in 1915 with the addition of a third impressive room, the so-called New Library. Adorned with the serene stone Ananda from the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan in China, the New Library closed a circuit around four sides of an inner courtyard that attached it to the main structure of the house, and also opened out onto the magnificent walled "hanging garden" as if the latter were a continuation of the library itself.

In the mid-1920s two small rooms, one atop the other and furnished with less graceful and darker cabinetry, were added behind the New Library. The library maintained this configuration until after Mary’s death, in 1944, and the end of the Second World War. In 1948, as books were piling once again into the library, a small apartment and several storage and service rooms on two floors behind the main library complex were joined together and remodeled on the modest design of Pinsent, becoming the library’s “New Annex.” (Neither of these later additions is visible any longer, as these areas were incorporated into the latest renovation in 2009.) At the same time Pinsent designed the charming “French Library” on the ground floor of the villa, now serving also as one of the Harvard Center’s two dining rooms.

The library’s growth as part of the Harvard Center

Under Harvard's administration, the library has extended far beyond the rooms that Bernard Berenson had built, and has also transformed the less distinguished later additions of his day.

In 1966 the former garage to the north of the library was remodeled to create a new Fototeca, or Photograph Archive, which would house the approximately one hundred and seventy thousand photographs in the collection and provide a designated space for consultation and curatorial work. Up to then, photos had been stored in cabinets under the bookshelves in the original library room and the New Annex.

Two years later, a porch off one of the 1920s rooms was enclosed to create an appropriate home for the Morrill Music Library, a collection established within the Biblioteca Berenson in 1964 with funds provided by F. Gordon Morrill and his wife Elizabeth. The benefactor himself, an amateur architect, provided the design.

The transformation in 1985 of a large farmhouse beside the Photo Archive into the Paul E. Geier Memorial Library doubled existing shelf space and also significantly expanded study areas for readers. In 1994 and 2004 the ground floor of the former granary and the wine cellar in buildings next door were overhauled and outfitted with compact shelving for high-density storage.

Finally in 2009, exactly one century after the Berensons completed the first room of their monumental library, I Tatti inaugurated the beautiful new wing dedicated to former Director Craig Hugh Smyth and his wife Barbara. The product of a complete overhaul of the 1920s rooms and the 1940s New Annex, the Smyth Library is a crisp and luminous space with abundant glass and warm wooden paneling. It offers a very contemporary but harmonious contrast to the adjacent historic library, with its dark walnut bookcases, vaulted ceilings, and decorative details inspired by the Renaissance.