On the Future of I Tatti




I want to put down in writing my ideas for the future of the institution that is to use I Tatti and my entire estate after my demise.

Our present western world is harassed, hustled and driven. It excludes leisure, tranquility, permits no unexciting pursuits, no contemplation, no slow maturing of ideas, no perfectioning of individual style.

Therefore my first and foremost wish is to establish fellowships that will provide leisure and tranquility to sixteen or more promising students. I would like them to have yearly stipends of 5000 dollars each, at present purchasing value which would be twice the amount stated in my will. When the fellowship fund is assured and the institute fully organized, the plan would be to begin with four or more fellows the first year, adding four or more the second year, again four or more the third year and once more four or more in the fourth. In the fifth year the first lot would go and the next one come in. From then on there would be a regular rotation: each year four or more fellows would leave and four or more would come in.
I would like half of these fellows to be appointed from the United States and Canada, four or more from England, and one or more each from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Holland. I omit France and Germany because these countries already have institutions in Florence. With the approval of Harvard University, the Advisory Committee hereafter referred to should make recommendations about making exceptions when needed to my suggestions as to the composition of the fellows. It might happen that particularly gifted individuals from other countries, including the Soviet Block and the Far East, would seem more promising than Anglo-Saxons of the same year and more eligible as fellows.

I would like these fellows to be no younger than 25 and no older than 35. Students who are still candidates to P.H.D.’s should be excluded and the selection made from those whose attitude towards art and literature and thought and their history is not merely archeological and, in the German sense of the word, “philological,” but psychological and empirical, founded on direct and loving contact with the work of art and not on book-learning. I should wish them to have complete leisure in these four years while maturing to be creative writers and teachers in the interpretation of art of every kind, including the verbal as well as the visual arts and not excluding fiction and verse. Research for the lust of mere research is not to be encouraged.

In a sense I venture to confess that I would like the fellows of I Tatti to continue what all my life long I have been trying to do but have only faintly succeeded in doing. I would like them to take as models Goethe and Zinckelman, Ruskin and Pater, Burckhardt and Woelflin, rather than mere antiquarians or mere attributors of the type of Cavalcaselle, Bodmer and their likes. I would like them to write about the way artists and their works have been appreciated through the ages rather than to concentrate on the material history or the provenance of the given work of art. In short, I want this institute to promote aesthetical and humanistic rather than philological and antiquarian interests.

If possible the fellows should live as an intellectual group at I Tatti and its dependencies or in Florence half the year. Nothing opens mind and heart like free discussion of gifted maturing individuals coming together with their own national traditions and differing attitudes and approach. During the other six months they shall be free to travel and to get new impressions or revise previous ones. I would prefer their travels to be confined to what was the ancient Oecumene, not going farther East than the Euphrates and not farther South than Egypt and the great desert of North Africa.

The best results may be expected from the most intimate possible acquaintance with our Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Mediaeval and Renaissance past as centred in the Mediterranean countries and their “Hinterland.” Italy holds the dominant position in that region, having absorbed all the influences of the historical past while radiating its own influence to the West and the North, to France, Spain, England and Germany.

I have provided a library (which by the way could furnish the surest and completest biography of myself) covering nearly every field of art and literature as well as all the ancillary material, historical, philological, and critical for rendering the arts intelligible, suggestive and inspiring. A person properly prepared who would use the I Tatti library for four years could not help coming out as a cultivated appreciator of all that art is and of what it has done to humanize mankind.

The library should be accessible to serious students of whatever nationality who could profit by using it.

I recommend that the serial publications should be continued or replaced by better ones (if any such appear) and that new books which promise to be of permanent value should be added to the extent that funds will permit. Dead books, by which I mean books of merely temporary interest gathered in a lifetime had better be given to any Italian libraries who may want them, rather than to attempt to sell them.

I would prefer my works of art to remain distributed over the house and not dumped into a separate room as a museum or gallery.

It is a great and earnest wish of mine that not a single square yard of the grounds now surrounding I Tatti from Ponte a Mensola up to the house and beyond should ever be alienated. I want them to serve as a protection against the invasion of the suburbs and to promote a feeling of free space and of distance. I should recommend that the permanent features of the garden, like trees and hedges, should be carefully kept up, reducing if necessary the expenditure on the cultivation of flowers.

I have every hope that whatever government prevails in Italy in the near and not too remote future will respect I Tatti and what it offers to students of promise interested in the pursuits that have absorbed my own life.

For the residing director I would prefer a person who was not a specialist of Florentine art but who had the whole world’s art always in his mind, whose interest was in styles rather than in illustration and did not reduce the work of art to a mere document for the history of its own period. For instance, I greatly admired the Warburg Institute for appointing as its director the late Professor Frankfurt, a student of Ancient Mesopotamian art.

I would recommend that John Walker (at present Chief Curator at the Washington National Gallery) should be after my demise the first director of the Harvard Institute that I Tatti is to become. He knows intimately what my hopes and intentions are for such an institution as I want I Tatti to be. Ever since the idea of leaving I Tatti to Harvard took shape, John Walker and I have discussed what it should be and what could be done with it. I am convinced that he could give it at the start the direction and the quality that I have in mind. My second recommendation would be Philip Hofer.

As members of an Advisory Committee for I Tatti I would suggest the following names:
For the U.S.A.: Walter Lippmann, John Walker, Philip Hofer, Robert Lehman, John Nicholas Brown, Charles Henry Coster, Francis Taylor, W. G. Constable
For England: Lord Crawford, Sir Kenneth Clark, Anthony Blunt,William Mostyn Owen
For the Scandinavian countries Axel Boethius.
I further recommend that the Advisory Committee consult my cousin Lawrence Berenson and Miss Elizabeth Mariano before presenting any suggestions or proposals to Harvard. Both have full understanding of my views about the future of I Tatti.

It is my hope that the President and Corporation of Harvard University will consult with the Advisory Committee in the selection of the Director, in the choice of the Fellows and in the determination of the general policies of the institution.

[Signed] Bernard Berenson
Vallombrosa, Aug. 18 1956