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Uncensored Berenson

In response to:

Only in America from the December 20, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

May I add a clarification to the review of my book, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur, which appeared in the December 20 issue. The reference (p. 19) to my book as “the official biography” is misleading if the term implies any direct or indirect censorship of its contents.

In the Villa I Tatti News Letter of November, 1967, Professor Myron Gilmore, director of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, reported that I had “begun work on a biography of Berenson which will be based on an exhaustive study of the [source] material.” Berenson’s literary executor, Nicky Mariano, had given me unrestricted access to all of the material, sorted and unsorted, in the archive. She imposed absolutely no limitations whatsoever on my use of the materials nor made any suggestions on how I should treat them. Her sister Alda was similarly cooperative in making available to me a collection of diaries and a trunkful of letters and papers which had been in her possession.

The only person who saw my manuscript before it was submitted to the Harvard University Press in 1978 was my wife who had been closely associated with me on the project from the beginning.

I should like to add that with respect to “the all important correspondence between Berenson and the dealer Duveen” the case is not so hopeless as your reviewer suggests. For my sequel volume I have been able to study in their entirely the nearly 2000 letters from the Duveens and their associates to Berenson and his wife as well as a substantial number of his to them (including important drafts) which are preserved at I Tatti. These will give a much more adequate understanding of their complex relationship.

Ernest Samuels

The Library of Congress

Washington, D.C.

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