Review: Stanley Mazaroff's Collector & Connoisseur

Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of 55, then went to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002. She has written a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, and is working on a memoir of Haiti.

henry-walters-and-bernard-berenson-140Henry Walters & Bernard Berenson: Collector & Connoisseur
by Stanley Mazaroff (Philippines 1961–63)
Johns Hopkins University Press
212 pages
May 2010

Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96)

Stanley Mazaroff has written a fascinating account of the relationship between Henry Walters, founder of the legendary Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and Bernard Berenson, the world’s greatest connoisseur of Italian paintings.

Walters opened his Italianate museum in 1909, and he enlisted Berenson’s expertize in analyzing his collection, procuring further paintings, and writing a catalogue of the art in his museum that would be acclaimed all over the art world. Walters’ collection was deemed by The New York Times to be on a par with the great collections in London, Paris, and Berlin.

From 1910 till 1916 Walters and Berenson were close friends. Walters visited Berenson’s fabulous Tatti Villa in Florence and they corresponded regularly until, over time, Berenson sought greener pastures from more affluent clients and not only abandoned his friend, but sabotaged Walters’ reputation.

The story of Walters and Berenson reveals the intricacies of collecting Italian Renaissance paintings, commercial ethics, and the trials of early American art museums.

While I have no education in art history, I have spent plenty of time gawking at the splendors of Italian art. Mazaroff makes art history accessible to the layman with his lucid explanations of all the elements involved in collecting and evaluating art, while his story of the relationship between Walters and Berenson reads like a novel. Most striking are the plates and prints of Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings that fill this book. Many appeared like old friends to me, but false friends in some cases, according to the critiques on their authenticity. It’s always disconcerting to learn nasty secrets about someone or something you think you know.

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  • The Walters museum in Baltimore does indeed have a fascinating collection with lots of Italian art. But it also have a very good collection of Ethiopian religious art, some of it on permanent display. Worth a visit for that alone.

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