This year's I Tatti Council Lecture, "The Art of the Self: Belle da Costa Greene and Bernard Berenson", was given by Professor Deborah Parker on April 25, 2023.
Belle da Costa Greene (1879-1950), a Black woman passing as White, rose to great prominence as J. Pierpont Morgan’s librarian and agent. In her letters to Bernard Berenson, Greene wrote vividly about books, Gilded Age collectors and dealers, and her heady life. Writing at a time when Modernist writers were expanding the genre of autobiography to explore the self’s affinities, Greene’s reflections offer a spirited account of a spectacular life. We have in essence an account of the making and empowerment of a female connoisseur and an impassioned account of her romance with Berenson, the love of her life. This talk explored the ways in which Greene fashioned a most extraordinary self through her letters.
Deborah Parker is Professor of Italian at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance (1993), Bronzino: Renaissance Painter as Poet (2000), Michelangelo and the Art of Letter Writing (2010), and General Editor of The World of Dante website. Her current book project, Belle da Costa Greene Through her Letters: Bookwoman and Librarian, will be coming out next year.