Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: David Seymour (Chim), Bernard Berenson at Ninety, Visiting the Borghese Gallery, Rome, 1955, gelatin silver print, printed 1982 David Seymour (Chim)
Bernard Berenson at Ninety, Visiting the Borghese Gallery, Rome, 1955
gelatin silver print, printed 1982
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos

Italy

Bernard Berenson at Ninety, Visiting the Borghese Gallery, Rome

Chim's portrait of 90-year-old Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian, complements his portrait of Toscanini taken the year before. Both men were towering cultural figures with close ties to Italy who had dedicated their careers to the arts, and both were in the twilight of their lives.

Chim photographed Berenson as he revisited several of his favorite works of art at Roman museums, including, here, Antonio Canova's Pauline Bonaparte Borghese as Venus (1805–1808) in the Borghese Gallery. Berenson, dressed impeccably, looks tiny standing before Canova's famously sensuous, seminude depiction of Napoleon's favorite sister. His gaze is serious, but there is also a hint of wistfulness as the aging connoisseur again considers the role of the nude female form in art. As he once noted, "The nude is the most absorbing problem of classic art at all times. Not only is it the best vehicle for all that in art is directly life-confirming and life-enhancing, but it is itself the most significant object in the human world."