Bernard Berenson and his colleagues in turn-of-the-century Florence saw how Italian Renaissance culture—its secularism, its self-consciousness, its business sense and innovations in scholarship, its ideas of collecting, display, and magnificence—anticipated, suggested, and influenced our own. By the end of Berenson’s career, it had become common for people concerned with the making and preserving and consuming of culture to think of their ideas as, in some special way, related to the view of life expressed by the men and women of the Italian Renaissance. For a while, people attributed this transformation… to Berenson himself, and this was a part of his magical appeal. But even if Berenson was not the cause of this change, his life may still be an unusually fine record of its happening. Berenson, busily reflecting his audiences back to themselves, became a kind of turning mirror in which are to be seen the dark and bright conflicts by which he was surrounded. It may even be that, as we watch his life unfold, we can catch a glimpse there of our arriving selves…

From Rachel Cohen's Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, out today! Visit Rachel’s website, read her essay in last year’s Art Issue, and, of course, pick up your copy of the book!