Longing for India: Images from Berenson's Photo Collection

Bernard Berenson’s photograph archive is justly celebrated as an outstanding resource for the study of Italian Renaissance painting. The collection, however, also includes other lesser-known sections of great fascination that illustrate the wide-ranging interests of the Berensons regarding other cultures, not only around the Mediterranean but also in Asia.

The exhibition currently on display in the Berenson Reading Room and the Gould Hall marks the Berensons’ acquisition exactly a century ago of a large group of wonderful photographs portraying Indian art and architecture. More than two thousand vintage prints highlight the art forms of India through the centuries.

This rich visual documentation of south Asia, quite rare in Italy, came to I Tatti in the years around 1914, when a receipt documents a purchase by Berenson of a number of photographs from the studio of Johnston & Hoffmann. P.A. Johnston and Theodore Hoffmann began working in Calcutta in 1880 and they soon became one of the most successful studios for commercial photography in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The collection contains 2201 gelatin prints that illustrate monuments in India, Sri Lanka and other parts of south Asia. They are classified as part of the Asian and Islamic collection of the Photo Archive. The photos include views of temples, caves and other religious buildings--some famous and others unknown to the general public--which are often shown within their natural setting or with people worshiping or conducting ritual ablutions. Of particular interest are images of buildings as they appear in the late 19th century before their restoration, as well as 46 panoramic views accompanied with plans that offer a comprehensive vista of entire sites.

Please note that Berenson Library displays are open only to library patrons and not to the general public.