BB adopts an unwell young art historian (interview by Mary Landor)


Luisa: In the summer of ‘45  Piero Fossi with his wife Nanina Fossi Rucellai  decided to go to Vallombrosa to Casa al Dono, because they had heard that Berenson had survived the war and had gone back to the Villa and gone, as usual during the summer,  they always went to Casa al Dono in Vallombrosa.

And so the Fossi’s went to say hello.

That was the extraordinary thing, that  Berenson said: “What about that girl?” ( Mary: “That was from two years before?”)  And they said: “Well it is rather worrying because … partly because of the hunger, or partly for other reasons, she’s in a very, very bad shape from her health. Hopefully she won’t become TB.”

And so Berenson said: “Well  you must bring her here, if she stays here with us in good fresh air  perhaps she can, you know, get over this.”

And … so I was told to get ready because they would bring me up there. And I felt so worried. Perhaps because of my father’s anti-fascism and so on, I had grown up in a family that was … where we had never met anybody, we were just the family. We had grown up in this villa in the countryside and which by then I had left because of the war…  and never went back there. But meanwhile I had managed to publish a book, a translation from  the German of some short stories byHeinrich von Kleistwhich had never been translated in Italian.  And so I thought well, perhaps I can bring him that, because what else can I bring? And we went up to Vallombrosa. The evening after the supper, Berenson said: “Why don’t you read to me you your preface to your translation?” because there was a long essay, and then there was the translation of these short stories

I was not used to reading aloud. And  I didn’t know that Berenson had this habit of after dinner, of having Nicky reading aloud. I was incredibly weak and nervous, different climate, you know, and nervousness. I remember I was reading really with, we say, you know..(with my heart in my throat.)

(Mary: “Yes I know”)

However, my voice must have been very soothing because Berenson fell asleep, and I didn’t know if I should go on or not. And I saw this lovely face of Nicky Mariano who was saying to me: “Keep going, keep going.. “(Laughing)

So that was the first evening. Next morning, I woke up with such a high temperature, that you can’t believe it, so they had to call the doctor from Vallombrosa. I was ill, very ill for about a fortnight and at the end of the fortnight I was supposed to go back to Florence. And Berenson said: ”You are not going back to Florence, you stay here until I think that you look alright.” So I was adopted, I stayed there until they shut the house in Vallombrosa, in the fall.

And then he said you have to help me with the photograph collection, and  I said :”I can’t, I must first find a house for my parents, a flat or something because they have nowhere to go” and he said: “Alright, but as soon as you have found a place for the family you must come work for me.”