Announcing the Winner of the I Tatti Prize for Best Essay by a Junior Scholar

December 14, 2017

We are delighted to announce that Nathaniel Silver has been awarded the I Tatti Prize for Best Essay by a Junior Scholar, for his essay "Creating a Renaissance Painter: Pesellino, Connoisseurship, and the Romantik," I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 18, No. 2.This biannual prize is awarded to a junior scholar for the best scholarly article published in our Journal. 


How do we reconstruct the oeuvres of dead painters and how are these artists categorized as Medieval, Renaissance or Baroque? This essay investigates the methods by which art historians recover and flesh out the historical figures that constitute the building blocks of our discipline through the lens of the Florentine Renaissance painter Francesco di Stefano, called il Pesellino (1422–1457). Between 1811 and 1901, he became the object of intense contestation for luminary art historians including William Young Ottley, Alexis-Francois Artaud de Montor, Giovanni Morelli, Bernard Berenson, Mary Berenson and Werner Weisbach. Their determination to establish and to wield authority as experts lies at the heart of each event that contributed to the construction of Pesellino’s modern identity. The following analysis of this process unfolds in a series of episodes – from the first attribution outside of Italy of a painting to Pesellino to the publication of the first and only monograph on him. Together they shed new light on the mechanics of monographic study and the contingency of artistic identity, drawing attention to the professional and financial pressures that inflected the creation of Renaissance artists by art historians, and the kinds of assumptions that became deeply embedded in their emerging profiles.


Nathaniel Silver is associate curator of the collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. His research focuses on Italian art. He has published on a variety of topics including Pesellino's historiography, trecento Venetian churches and their altarpieces, Piero della Francesca and his native city, Piermatteo d'Amelia's rediscovery and Isabella Stewart Gardner's pioneering tastes. In 2013, he curated Piero della Francesca in America at The Frick Collection and recently co-organized exhibitions on Carlo Crivelli and Renaissance books in Boston, the latter of which won an "Outstanding Exhibition" award from the AAMC. His forthcoming show Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth reunites the painter's four reliquaries for the church of Santa Maria Novella and explores Angelico's sacred historia.