While Bernard Berenson's roles a connoisseur, Renaissance art expert, defender of Western culture, and arbiter of taste extraordinaire are well known, his role as critic and theorist of modern art has until now been little understood. Mary Ann Calo's new intellectual biography is the first study to place Berenson's career in the context of modernist art and criticism. The unequivocal hostility towards modern art Berenson expressed late in life does not adequately represent his views, Calo argues. Tracing his writings over half a century, she examines his transition from an innovative modern critic to a reactionary conservative who used his influence to discredit twentieth-century art and to preserve the notion of culture as aristocratic privilege. Calo point out how Berenson's increasing social, political, and aesthetic conservatism belies his youthful interest in modern art. Her focus on the development of Berenson's aesthetic principles and intellectual life demonstrates that his theory of art anticipated, and perhaps made possible the modernist art he loathed.
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