When Bernard Berenson died in 1959 the fate of his beloved Villa I Tatti was far from certain. By the late 1950s, Berenson had managed to convince Harvard that it should accept the bequest of the Villa and turn it into a center for research in the humanities. But the form the center would take, who would run it and how it would be funded were all difficult matters still to be resolved. This first part of VIT’s oral history takes us back to that period of transformation: the last few years of Berenson’s long and eventful life and the beginning of Harvard's stewardship. In interviews conducted over the last couple of years with those who have clear memories of Bernard Berenson, and of life at the Villa when he was in residence, a unique picture begins to emerge of Berenson’s last years and of the changes that took place as Harvard began to transform the Villa into a center for scholarly research. Recorded accounts from, amongst others, Berenson’s last assistant, one of the first Fellows, Berenson’s housekeeper, former Librarians and a future Director, offer a fascinating and informative glimpse into this important moment in the history of the Villa.
The interviews were recorded by Anna Bensted either at Villa I Tatti or in the US between 2010 and 2013, the exception being the interview with Luisa Vertova which was recorded by Mary Gibbons Landor and her husband John Landor in 2001. They have been divided into categories but are also searchable by names of interviewees. For those who would like to hear the full interviews, they will be made available in the I Tatti archive along with transcripts. These interviews are the initial ones conducted for the oral history. There are many more to do, and once they are completed, edited extracts will be added to this site and placed online and in the archives.