“nothing opens mind and heart like the free discussion of gifted maturing individuals, coming together with their own national traditions and differing attitudes and approaches.” Bernard Berenson, 1959
Villa I Tatti’s roots as a center for advanced study go back to the late 1950s, when the art historian and connoisseur Bernard Berenson left his villa and extensive collections of books, photographs, and works of art to his alma mater Harvard. Berenson, who had graduated from Harvard College in 1887, credited his success as a historian and critic of late Medieval and Renaissance art to his strong education in the humanities. Early on, he planned to leave his estate to his alma mater and wished to establish a center of scholarship that would advance humanistic learning throughout the world, as well as increase understanding of the values by which civilizations develop and survive. Besides the Villa, his library of some 50,000 volumes, and an archive of photographs particularly strong in Italian Renaissance painting, Berenson left Harvard his works of art, his archive of correspondence and papers, the surrounding farmlands and gardens, and several other buildings. He saw both the collection and the setting at I Tatti as providing encouragement to thoughtful and creative intellectual development.
The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies opened its doors to the first scholars in 1961, and the villa was transformed into a center where scholars could exchange ideas and be physically close to the many sites of historical importance in Florence and beyond. Berenson took a broad geographic view of the Renaissance, urging scholars to travel and gather knowledge beyond European boundaries, and also expressed the hope that scholars coming to I Tatti would originate not only from the United States but from many countries, bringing with them their own approaches and viewpoints.
These notions of inclusive collaboration, intellectual exploration and fellowship are central to our mission to advance the understanding of the Italian Renaissance. By now I Tatti has welcomed over one thousand appointees working in the fields of Italian Renaissance art, history, literature, philosophy, history of science, and music. Currently, we host fifteen full-year post-doctoral Fellows in addition to twenty Term Fellows, twelve Visiting Professors, several graduate Fellows, and Harvard interns. We also regularly welcome many visiting scholars who attend frequent conferences and exploratory seminars. Our appointees continue to be a vital part of our community long after their fellowship ends, going on to act as ambassadors for Italian culture and the value of the humanities throughout the world. Former Fellows frequently return to I Tatti to collaborate and participate in our scholarly programs, make use of our many resources (the Berenson Library now houses over 180,000 volumes), and enjoy the lively conversations generated by the resident community.
I Tatti can pursue its goals thanks to the generous support of enlightened individuals and institutions whose belief in the future of the humanities leads them to foster Renaissance scholarship at our center. Having been personally involved with I Tatti in various ways over the years, including two appointments as Visiting Professor, it is now my great privilege to serve as Director of the world’s foremost institution for excellence in Italian Renaissance Studies.