7: Mr. Berenson and His Circle

Unable to bear the gloom of London’s foggy autumn, I took off for Italy. This no doubt reflects my constitutional disposition as one born in Japan, the land of sunshine; but at the same time, I had wanted from the start to do some research on Renaissance painting in Italy, and in the end I was drawn to Florence, the mecca for such things.

There was one more reason for this: Bernard Berenson, the scholar whom I respected the most, lived in Italy. It is a matter of fact that the history of Italian painting up to the modern era has been rewritten with the appearance of Mr. Berenson on the scene, and when it comes to books written before Berenson it is by no means an overstatement to say that—with the exception of Vasari, on the older end of the spectrum, and Burckhardt, more recently—any other work has been largely rendered obsolete. So it was my hope that, if I were to go to Florence, I would receive guidance on art-historical matters from Mr. Berenson, and then see the paintings themselves closely with my own eyes, make my own judgments, and conduct my own research. Perhaps it was because I was the only Asian among Mr. Berenson’s disciples and his extraordinarily broad field of interest also included Eastern art, but I was treated with affection by my teacher. In the more than forty years since, I have called innumerable times upon my teacher’s villa, I Tatti, on the outskirts of Florence, sometimes lodging for longer periods of time there. Nowadays the students of Mr. Berenson are scattered throughout Europe and America. There are a great many of them, in various countries and locales, who are now generally senior members in their countries’ fields of art history. They treat me with respect, as one of their midst.

Those days—the 1920s, in other words—were a time when Mr. Berenson’s various research endeavors were bearing fruit, and the old inaccuracies in Italian art history were being corrected bit by bit. There were many figures in the history of painting who until then had not been widely studied, such as Masolino da Panicale, Domenico Veneziano, Andrea del Castagno, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, and so forth—one could simply say the Florentine School of the Quattrocento. An outline of the artistic achievements of these masters, in whom there had been little interest until that time, was gradually becoming better established, and one new discovery after another became the topic of an academic article to be published. It was the most remarkable period of development for modern research into the history of fine art. Those of us young students in Berenson’s circle also found this completely exhilarating, and were in the heights of competition for the discovery of new materials and the presentation of new interpretations.

I also pursued some research as a part of that group, but before long I felt the flames of youthful ambition and turned my attention to a bigger name—Sandro Botticelli. Botticelli possessed a remarkably unique genius, even among the diverse community of painters in Florence, and he matched my tastes perfectly. It is almost mysterious, if I may say so myself, how even today when I go to the Uffizi Gallery and stand before true masterpieces like La Primavera or The Birth of Venus I feel, just like long ago, as if assailed by a kind of strange allure.

The supple bodies of Venus and the other goddesses, their long limbs, their slender and supple fingers, their long golden hair fluttering in the wind, the well-defined, curved forms created by Botticelli, maintain a realistic authenticity, but also seem to deviate from this somewhat, taking on a mysterious slender beauty not found elsewhere. One almost feels its delicate rhythm, as it begins to entwine around one’s heart. Even when he is simply depicting wild flowers scattered in lush grass, one can sense in each flower’s depths a concealed spirit, and the flowers speaking to each other—not unlike, for example, the sentiment expressed in “The Sensitive Plant” by Shelley, that English poet who loved Italy and ultimately drowned in the Italian sea: this is the mysterious, polytheistic sort of mutual sensitivity that Botticelli’s art imparts to me. That being said, with the exception of older literary critics like Walter Pater, one finds virtually no reference in recent books on Botticelli to this kind of spiritual core in Botticelli’s art, which is what I find most interesting about it, nor to the form of expression, endowed with a kind of strange enchanting power, that this guides through instinct and brings to fruition. This, actually, seems to be due to the fact that, as a reaction to the excessively poetic interpretations of the early Walter Pater and others in the nineteenth century, there emerged a scientific approach to scholarship in the twentieth century that focused on the so-called critique of formal aspects, which took poetic interpretation and interpretations based on sentiment to be nothing more than a string of so-called literary associations. Going even further, this new approach gave birth to the sort of tendency that largely denies that lyricism should be considered as part of artistic content. Even still, the truth is that, in art, there is much that abundantly contains poetic feeling or sentiment, and this is the way it ought to be; there is no reason to think that in art an approach is invalid simply because of its inclusion of poetic interpretation.

That being said, even in the case of academic interests there are fads and there are reactions to those fads. As a reaction to the overwhelming popularity of the Pater style of poetic literariness in art criticism in the nineteenth century, from the twentieth century onward, the dominant milieu came to be one wherein interpretation based on poetic sentiment was largely rejected as an approach, even in the case of an artist like Botticelli, in whose work anyone can see the richness of poetic sentiment. Although this strikes me as strange indeed, it was the truth.

Of particular note is Herbert Horne, the Botticelli expert who passed away not long before I arrived in Florence, and whose foundational research on Botticelli’s historical circle, above all, was the greatest achievement in that field. Using old documents written during Botticelli’s lifetime, Horne found Botticelli’s own art being praised with the term aria virile, or “masculine style”; using this as his basis, Horne put forth the new theory that the Pater-esque exclusive appraisal of sentimental beauty through such figures as Venus, or through sweet maidenly angels, or, alternatively, through the dreamy facial expression of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels, was not legitimate. This new theory, due to the fact that it was based on the new discovery of unexpected historical documents, was taken very seriously among scholars. When one studies Botticelli, one does, admittedly, find that, in his youth, he was an avid student of the austere technique of Pollaiuolo, known as an expert in realism, for the realistic painting of human figures, and that, as a result, there is admittedly reason in his art to believe that it would have been praised while he was alive as aria virile. And Botticelli was by no means a painter of a frail feminine decadence, almost as if there were nothing to him but sentimental beauty, as was the way Pater, Rossetti, and others in that circle of sensitive late-nineteenth-century English poets and writers understood him. At its foundation, Botticelli’s art without a doubt possesses the strength of a Pollaiuolo-esque masculine beauty, and it is precisely because of this that Botticelli was successful in uniform composition on a large scale with no internal discrepancies, and that he fully possessed of the capacity to rank among the greatest masters of his day. Even if that is the case, however, one should by no means lose sight of the other side of Botticelli, the fact that he possessed in uncommon measure a sentimental nature stirred by an indescribably delicate sensitivity and a feminine attunement to detail. Indeed, that is not all: while duly acknowledging the presence of aria virile—and one would have to give the fresco Saint Augustine of the church of Ognissanti as an example of a masterpiece in that vein—I, among others, nonetheless cannot help but think that it is inappropriate to find the artistically defining trait of all of Botticelli’s life’s work in anything but the tenor of his sentimental beauty. However, art historians, no matter the country, have a tendency to show excessive reverence to research based on the study of archival documents; if there is a new discovery of something written in an old text, art historians will pounce on it and wave it about. This is the same for scholars East and West, past and present. When I went to Florence, the views on Botticelli’s art appeared to be almost completely aligned with this new discovery of aria virile by Herbert Horne. Especially since this was a historical criticism made during Botticelli’s own lifetime, the world of Italian art history was even more prepared to accept this, a criticism of Botticelli’s art from Botticelli’s era, as if it were indubitable fact.

Now, this rare news of contemporary criticism from Botticelli’s own lifetime was of exceeding interest, and furthermore one cannot of course deny its substantial archival value. Nonetheless, it is not a given that contemporary views always hit the mark. This is the same for the fine arts and for music. Starting with the famous case of Schubert, we are aware of many striking examples—almost too many. Since such is the case, there is little need, when considered objectively, to use the discovery of a single document, which shows that Botticelli’s art was praised as aria virile while he was alive, as if it were the undeniable critical criterion for all of Botticelli’s art. In this way, when I arrived in Florence I felt exceedingly dissatisfied with this sort of hermeneutic for Botticelli’s art, which seemed to dominate the scholarly field, and I wanted to get closer to the various aspects of his art, using my own way of looking at it, such that I could believe in these aspects as correct, and thereby try to greatly clarify them. Such were the exceedingly brazen ambitions, possible only because I was still young, that flared up within me.

At that time Mr. Berenson held a view of Botticelli somewhat different from that of the scholarly community of Florence, and I thought to myself what a good thing it was that I came to study with him. To put this another way, despite the fact that Mr. Berenson was the person who originally established the new school of thought in art history that specialized in the scientific analysis of formal elements, at the same time he possessed an extremely keen sense of artistic intuition, and in the case of Botticelli, as well, he profoundly felt the presence of a kind of poetic sentiment that could even be called strange. Since he had no other appropriate way to express it, he called this aspect of Botticelli’s work “Eastern.” According to Mr. Berenson’s way of thinking, in Botticelli’s art one senses a spiritual element akin to the poetic or perhaps mystical properties of Eastern art, and which one does not usually find in Western art. Accordingly, he pointed out, one can on occasion unexpectedly encounter in Botticelli’s painting style special characteristics, such as flowing line drawings, that are similar to what one finds in Eastern painting and that are not usually seen in Western painting. Although I, a youth from the East, had suddenly come to make myself the student of Mr. Berenson, who thought about Botticelli in this way, it is not necessarily the case that I have inherited his “Eastern theory” and so forth; the art of Botticelli captivated me in an entirely spontaneous manner, and, furthermore, I began to conduct research and form my own interpretations in entirely my own style. As a result, from my teacher’s perspective there was probably also the fact that his past words now seemed to have a certain air of prognostication about them, and thus he took me in as a kind of unusual guinea pig and treated me with affection. I was, however, perhaps the sort of student who does not listen to the words of his teacher, and Mr. Berenson, in his wisdom, never tried to teach by molding me into a mirror image of himself, and let me do as I please. And for that, above all, I was thankful, as one who, by nature, tends to not pay much attention to what others have to say when it comes to art history.

The fact that Mr. Berenson referred to artists like Botticelli, and the Sienese School that preceded him,  as “Eastern” has actually nowadays become all too famous, and some Western scholars have been too receptive to what this suggests. Later on figures emerged on the scene who pushed this idea even further by attempting to prove that Chinese painting had a direct influence on Botticelli and the Sienese School—the French scholar [Gustave] Soulier is one such example. Since this was the actual state of things, I did not really agree on the topic of Mr. Berenson’s calling the unique nature of Italian art from the figures of the Sienese school through Botticelli “Eastern,” on the grounds that, even if it were a clever way of saying things and rich in implications, it was also a way of saying things that went too far and was extremely prone to inviting misunderstanding. This is to say nothing of the fact that there was no historical evidence that suggested any such relationship between China or the Far East and Italy during that period, and that thereby would lead one to this imaginative theory about the direct influence of Chinese art on the formation of the style of the Sienese School and Botticelli—a theory that, in those days, had started to see its advocacy grow somewhat. If anything, it seems as though we see a certain amount of influence from the miniatures of the Near East. Even still, I ultimately think that this matter can be amply explained mainly as the spontaneous emergence of an artistic phenomenon brought on by the confluence of various circumstances of the day, such as a certain amount of resemblance between Italian painting of the Quattrocento and Eastern painting in terms of watercolor technique, or in other words the use of tempera a secco, and the mystical disposition and religious tendencies of Botticelli himself, for example. Since this set of issues is so complex, I felt the need to organize my thoughts on the matter, in later years giving a talk in Italian at the University of Rome entitled “The ‘Oriental’ Character in Italian Tre- and Quattrocento Paintings,” as well as publishing an English version of that talk as an article in the academic journal East and West of Rome. I would like to ask those with an interest to take a further look there. At any rate, I felt that there was something in Botticelli that resonated with me in a very interesting way, and setting aside the question of whether it is appropriate to call that feeling “Eastern” or not, I somehow made up my mind, and gradually came to feel as if I had been given as my academic mission to one day try to understand this issue in my own terms.

Although the sentiment above is, to be sure, nothing other than my own conceited ambition resulting from a youthful impetuosity, the crowd of talented, energetic scholars who had come from throughout Europe and America to gather as part of Mr. Berenson’s circle each burned with their own individual ambitions. Each went on afterward to publish their own tomes and to become nowadays senior experts in their respective countries, important figures in their fields of the fine arts and scholarship. In this regard, I cannot but thank the heavens to be blessed with the good fortune of being suddenly tossed into this vigorous group of fellow researchers with Mr. Berenson at their center, having made my way from the East without any such intent, and of being suddenly compelled to harbor similar ambitions, whereby I was able to accomplish a fair amount in my field. And I cannot at the same time fail to remember with gratitude the natural influence of Mr. Berenson that stemmed from the greatness of his person. He spontaneously brought out this spirit among his students.


This period—the period when I started living in Florence and was granted the privilege of going out to Mr. Berenson’s villa on the outskirts of Florence once a week to use the research facilities and the wonderful art library there—was truly an era that bustled with activity. This also applies to the decades before and after—that is, the first twenty or thirty years of the twentieth century, when the traditional history of Italian painting was almost entirely rewritten: various new discoveries followed one after the other, the mistakes of old ways of thinking were corrected, and new research and new materials were published in rapid succession. In Rome there were the endeavors of Professor Adolfo Venturi, a senior expert in the field, in Florence Mr. Berenson possessed his splendid, unique facilities for research, and in Germany there was the scholar Bode, and they all competed amongst themselves for new breakthroughs. It was in such a pivotal period as this that I was in Florence, the center of such research, and furthermore I was able to spend much of my time around Mr. Berenson, whom I believed to be the foremost leader in these changes. And, precisely because things were at a peak of exceptional intensity in terms of both time and place, the fact that I was able to join naturally the group of young scholars gathered there was not only of great benefit to my own research topics, but also meant that I was granted the opportunity of encounters that would have been impossible normally, giving me many interesting experiences that stand out in my life as a scholar.

I will try to recall one such experience here, but in order to do so it will be necessary to briefly explain the condition of Renaissance art studies in those days. For specialists in the field of Italian art history back then, one of the most intriguing issues for anyone was the attention suddenly given in the academic community to Domenico Veneziano, a painter of the Florentine School who had until then not been counted among the first rank of artists. Domenico’s traditional biography holds that he was a prodigy with remarkable promise as a painter, but that he was murdered by his fellow painter Andrea del Castagno, who was envious of his talent. However, after an investigation into archival documents it came to light that Domenico Veneziano, who was supposed to have been murdered young, actually had lived longer than his alleged murderer, Andrea del Castagno, and we also learned the intriguing reason why such a mistaken legend came to be in the first place. Andrea del Castagno—who, legend had it, killed Domenico out of envy of his talent—was, like Domenico, a truly exceptional portrait painter. The grave, pointed power of his realism was of such a strict severity that it one could say it was relentless—cruel, in other words. They say that those painted by him sensed an almost terrible power, a drawing near to the brink of absolute veracity. One can to a certain extent imagine this from his frescoes and so forth that still exist in Florence today. During this period, political strife was extremely fierce in Renaissance Florence, and as a result traitors of the city of Florence were frequently put to death in a violent fashion: the criminal would have a rope tied around his neck, and be thrown from a window high up in the city hall, so that he would be hanged as a lesson for all of the citizens to see. And as the days passed the corpse began to rot, until a painter was ordered to depict the figure of that hanged criminal in a large portrait, which was hung from the window in place of the corpse as a continuation of that lesson. When the traitor was still at large, a painter was made to paint a portrait of the criminal hung upside down with his feet bound with rope, which would then similarly be hung from a window of the city hall while they waited for his arrest, until the criminal was caught and similarly sentenced. Now, it was precisely painters like Andrea del Castagno who became known as the masters of this sort of unusual portrait painting by endowing their work with the utmost power and veracity. Put another way, perhaps it was because he was always being made to paint portraits of hanged traitors with the goal of creating, to the maximum extent possible, a sense of deep hatred toward the criminals in the people of the city that his art developed in the direction of a realism that was brutal and cruel, almost lurid. In this manner, they carried out in the Renaissance a method of execution so lurid that it is difficult for us to imagine today; the people of the city would go to observe the sight without any qualms to satisfy their curiosity, and when it came to painters, they would often take advantage of the spectacle to make sketches of it, seeing it as a very convenient opportunity for studies in the accurate rendering of the human anatomy and similar such research. This is something we can easily agree upon by virtue of the fact that even Leonardo da Vinci left a notebook, which still exists today, of sketches done in pen of corpses hanging with a rope around their neck. And Andrea del Castagno, whom I am in the process of introducing here as the foremost expert in the depiction of these criminals condemned to death, also left behind extremely accurate line drawings of those hanged for their crimes. The deft and unfeeling nature of the depiction—precisely because of its unfeeling pursuit of objective representation—weighs upon the viewer’s heart with such intensity that the drawings become all the more uncomfortable to look at. Now, seeing as how the people of Florence have a fondness for talk and gossip regardless, before one knew it the cruelty of the paintings became the cruelty of the painter, and, by virtue of the fact that he had made his name as a painter through the creation of these sorts of incredibly gruesome portraits of executed criminals, it came to be said about Andrea del Castagno that anyone who can paint such terrible pictures must himself be a terrible person. Furthermore, it seems that this somehow or other gave birth to a legend and concordant belief to the effect that he was envious of the fact that Domenico Veneziano, his contemporary, was such a prodigy and that, spurred on by his intense feelings of envy, he murdered his friend Domenico. It seems that such an interpretation had been proposed by someone in the Renaissance scholarly community not long before I arrived in Florence. Regardless of whether this hypothesis is correct or not, and even if it warrants critique, the fact remains that the truth of the matter—that the alleged murder victim Domenico Veneziano lived longer than the alleged murderer Andrea del Castagno—was discovered through archival research into the painter’s death registers or some other such document, and was even furnished with this kind of interesting, imaginative explanation. Due to this, during the period when I settled in Florence and joined Mr. Berenson’s research circle, Mr. Berenson as well as the young, ambitious researchers who had gathered around him all began to pay great attention to these two painters of the Quattrocento, Domenico Veneziano and Andrea del Castagno, who had until then had not been thought of as prominent figures and whose works were not well known. Accordingly, there was a spirit of mutual competition in the air, a vying for new discoveries to be made for both figures.

The above should give a sense of the state of affairs for the field of research on Renaissance painting history during the period I spent in Florence, based on my own personal experience. Now, I would like to relate a remarkable occurrence from this period in my life in the fine arts. Since in those days I had already begun to delve into research on Botticelli, it was difficult for me to direct too much of my zeal to the issue of Domenico Veneziano and Andrea del Castagno. To be sure, I took a great interest in this, as it was one of the important topics studied by my colleagues, and thus I possessed a general knowledge of these two painters. And this likewise meant that I was well informed of the succession of new discoveries regarding these painters. One year during this period, I was off to the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University in England to conduct research on materials pertaining to Botticelli they had there. One day, while Sydney Cockerell, the director of the museum, and I were talking about something or other in the museum’s gallery, a member of the museum staff passed close by us holding a small painting. Glancing at it, I saw it to be a small painting of the Annunciation, with exceptionally bright colors—an unusually beautiful painting. I looked it over, and, thinking to myself that this is without a doubt a work of the Florentine School of the Quattrocento, and that paintings from the period with such bright and beautiful colors are rare indeed, I asked the museum director, with whom I had been speaking at the time, “What is that?” He responded off-handedly, “It’s a Ghirlandaio.” I said, “There is no way that could be—let me take a look,” and, calling the person carrying it to a halt, I took a good look at it; and intuition told me that it was painted by Domenico Veneziano. Domenico was a painter who used bright colors to an unusual degree for the Florentine School of that period, something which I had for some time thought to perhaps be the result of his Venetian origins, as the name “Veneziano” suggests. At any rate, as I looked closely at the painting I noticed that there was an old, small tag with “Domenico” written on it stuck to the frame. And then I understood. At the name “Domenico” everyone in those days thought of Domenico Ghirlandaio of the Florentine School, the most famous painter with that name; it was common sense. I immediately realized that, for the longest time at this museum, this painting had been assumed to be a Ghirlandaio. At that point, I began to feel very triumphant and proclaimed, “This is the work of Domenico Veneziano. Little has been made of him until now, but currently he is the hottest topic in research on the history of Renaissance painting. Since this represents a completely new discovery of one of his works, the day will come when this museum will be happy indeed to be the owner of this.” Seeing as how a young newcomer from the East had begun to make such brazen pronouncements out of the blue, it is true that Mr. Cockerell, whom I had met for the first time that day, had a bewildered, nonplussed look on his face; but at any rate, this kind old grandfather of a director thanked me politely, and I felt overjoyed to have made such an unexpected catch. I exchanged business cards with the director and went home.

After that something like two or three years passed before I went again to England and visited Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. Before calling on the director, I took a look at the gallery. I thereupon found that Domenico Veneziano’s small painting of the Annunciation, which I discovered on my previous visit, was now prominently on display, and was labeled, too, as Domenico Veneziano, just as I had proclaimed to the director. This pleased me greatly; and as I gazed at the work I suddenly noticed that a small newspaper clipping had been affixed to the wall next to the painting. Wondering what this was, I approached it to take a closer look. It was a clipping from a British newspaper, and contained the following sentence: “This picture was discovered in the Fitzwilliam Museum by Mr. Yukio Yashiro, a scholar of the history of Italian painting.”1 And I recall that the clipping included the date of discovery. I felt extremely honored, and when I asked the director about it he told me an interesting story. As he confessed to me, “Back then I had just met you, and when I was told all of a sudden that that was a piece by Domenico Veneziano—to be honest, since I don’t keep up with the cutting-edge research in Italy I didn’t know much about Domenico Veneziano, and I only half-believed it. What’s more, since it came from a young man from the East such as yourself, I was all the more unsure as to whether I ought to believe what you said or not. Then a little while after that, a renowned scholar of Italian painting from the University of Rome visited (author’s note: I have refrained from giving his name here), and so we began to pull out various Renaissance paintings from storage for him to look at. Since that painting was among them, we showed it to him. And then the professor looked very pleased and said, ‘This is a real find!’ And he pointed out exactly what you had told me that day. Well, that surprised me, and I told the professor about how once you had stopped a staff member who was carrying the small painting—which had been traditionally appraised at our museum as a Ghirlandaio—and, glancing it over, said to me that the traditional appraisal was mistaken, and that there was no doubt that this was the work of Domenico Veneziano, who had recently started to be well-regarded as an important painter in Italy. And I also told him that you were a young Japanese scholar. This same professor, however, afterward presented the find as if it were his own new discovery in a research journal.2 I didn’t think that was right, so had them write that in the newspaper.” I was then deeply struck by Mr. Cockerell’s kindness, and furthermore thought to myself how his way of dealing with the situation was indeed befitting the image of a true English gentleman who holds justice in high esteem. I admired him deeply for it, and thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

This little personal episode, when viewed from various angles, illustrates the zeitgeist of what we may call the age of new discoveries in the history of Renaissance painting in those days, and I cannot help but think that it is deeply meaningful by implication. Because it was truly an age filled with that sort of competition for new discoveries, scholars would put their effort into fishing around various places for the discovery of something new and into rushing to publish what they found. It was like we were completely engrossed in racing to the front of the pack. Since I happened to be working in Florence under the auspices of Mr. Berenson, a leading figure, and was a part of the group of young researchers who had gathered around him, and since news in one form or another about all kinds of new materials and new discoveries would quickly reach Mr. Berenson’s villa, I had relatively early access to the latest news and images pertaining to all kinds of new discoveries in the field of the history of Italian painting. As a result, I was able to look at an unknown work by Domenico Veneziano at the university museum in Cambridge and see through its mistaken attribution at a glance. At any rate, it will now be necessary for me to give a few more details about this Domenico Veneziano here. At the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, there is a large altarpiece from the church of Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli, which depicts the Virgin Mary surrounded by various saints. I remembered that painting well—especially its dazzling colors. Based on that, as I have already explained, at the Fitzwilliam Museum I was quickly able to determine from its use of color that the small Annunciation there was the work of Domenico Veneziano. And I also knew that the predella, which would have been originally displayed together with it, was missing from the Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli Altarpiece in the Uffizi Gallery. The predella is a series of oblong paintings below the main altarpiece that depicts in miniature form various stories associated with the figures in the main painting. Researchers had for a while been searching with a general sense of what to look for, thinking that this predella had likely been split apart and was sure to be somewhere in piecemeal form. It is customary for the middle of the predella of an altarpiece that has the Virgin Mary at its center to depict the Annunciation, that is, the event that marks the beginning of Mary’s transformation into the Virgin Mother. Thus, when I discovered the small Annunciation at Cambridge, I was more or less able to conclude at once that this was none other than the all-important central piece of the missing predella of the Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli Altarpiece in Florence.

At this point, the story turns into a confession of the depths of my own stupidity. Why did I not ask Mr. Cockerell, with whom I had just been talking, to let me take a photograph of the painting of the Annunciation the first time I was at the museum in Cambridge, when I was confident that it was the work of Domenico Veneziano? And why did I not then proceed to show the photograph to Mr. Berenson immediately after returning to Florence, and rapidly write it up in a paper and publish my findings? I belatedly kick myself for being so careless. That was how fierce the competition for new discoveries and the race to the fore was in those days. What is more, because issues pertaining to Domenico Veneziano were, as I have already written, the focus of academic attention those days, Mr. Berenson praised me greatly when I told him about the matter; it would have been as though I received the art historian’s Medal of Honor, so to speak, and there is no doubt that I would have been able to hold my head high indeed among my research colleagues. But I was not yet used to such competition over new findings, and did not realize that one would have to act so immediately; what a great fool I was to just let my discovery sit like that. Even a prominent figure in the field like the professor at the University of Rome apparently felt the need to publish a discovery like that immediately after seeing it, despite the fact that the museum director at Cambridge had told him that this was a discovery made by a scholar from the East named Yashiro; and what is more, this professor already knew me, and had helped me in matters pertaining to Botticelli. I found this a little strange, and although as a rule I make a point not to engage in pessimistic speculation, perhaps all bets are naturally off when the new discovery at hand is one of exceeding interest to one’s own field of expertise, and thus this professor published it in a great hurry as his own discovery. From this one should be able to imagine the extent in those days to which Domenico Veneziano was the target of the scholarly gaze, and accordingly the extent to which scholars were head over heels in a mad dash to discover something new. If I had immediately published the discovery of that little Annunciation as my own, then, precisely because it was a topic that was receiving attention, I would have been recognized as an expert in Renaissance painting several years before my publications and books on Botticelli; and precisely because of this, there is no doubt that things would have been much more convenient in terms of research. In this regard, I feel a certain amount of regret for what I did.

After that, the competition to discover the smaller paintings of the predella of Domenico Veneziano’s Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli Altarpiece in the Uffizi Gallery began in earnest among scholars from various countries in Europe, and I recall that among them Mr. Berenson and the aforementioned professor from the University of Rome had the most respective discoveries in number. When I think of how the smaller paintings of the predella must be almost entirely recovered by now, I feel a little burst of pride knowing that my own discovery, the Annunciation, was the most important of these and that it comprised the central portion of the predella, even if I was careless in neglecting to claim that discovery as my own.


1.An Artistic Discovery,” The Times [London]  Feburary 23, 1925, 15, in reference to the Annunciation and Miracle of San Zanobius panels: “Shortly after their arrival at the Fitzwilliam Museum, on October 30, 1923, Professor Yashiro, of Tokyo … at once recognized that the ‘Annunciation’ was by Domenico Veneziano, and afterwards wrote that it was part of the predella of the well-known picture … formally over the high altar of the Church of Santa Lucia de’ Bardi.” [This note and the next by Jonathan K. Nelson]

2. Adolfo Venturi, “Tavoletta di Domenico Veneziano”, L’Arte 28 (1925), 28-30, with the following concluding note,“Siamo informati che il Prof. Yashiro dell’Accademia Imperiale di Tokio, alquanto precedentemente a noi, si accorse che il quadro della raccolta di Cambridge apparteneva senza alcun dubbio a Domenico Veneziano. Ci è grato di dare pubblica notizia del fatto che attesta una volta di più come lo studioso giapponese di Sandro Botticelli conosca addentro i nostri maestri toscani del Quattrocento." Letters from Cockerell to Berenson, at I Tatti, reveal that the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum first wrote Venturi, who then made his addition to the article. Bernard Berenson attributed the two Cambridge panels to Domenico Veneziano, without reference to Yashiro, in “Nove pitture in cerca di un'attribuzione-I ,” Dedalo 1925, 601-642: 638, 642 n. 6.