Jacquie and Lee Bouvier meet Bernard Berenson in Florence in 1951

This is just something I never would have believed had happened, but it apparently did. It is discussed in a very interesting book on Berenson by Rachel Cohen, which I quote below. Lee Radziwill left her impression of the sophisticated but very much older Berenson:

“Nicky Mariano [Berenson’s amour and assistant) was sometimes jealous…of Berenson’s flirtations and affairs and of the great many women who made up what she called ‘B.B.’s Orchestra.’ “

In fact, as he aged, Berenson’s seductive power became somewhat legendary. Lee Radziwill (Lee Bouvier when she visited Berenson in 1951 with her sister, who became Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) still thought of Berenson as “one of the most fascinating men I ever knew,” sixty years later. She compared his powerful appeal to Jawaharlal Nehru’s: they were “seductive mentally, rather than physically.”

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Berenson’s catalog of mistresses and of epistolary romances, like all his other collections, was exhaustive. He had first found both sexual tolerance and a large network of youthful romantic friendships with women and men in bohemian and Edwardian circles, and among the expatriates in Italy.

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In the years of his maturity, he found a similar atmosphere among his mistresses and flirtations in the aristocratic milieu of the European art world. Berenson adored, and was adored by, titled women, and he was interested in beauty wherever he saw it. Attractive young women who visited I Tatti were regularly surprised by his physical attentions.

After WWII…Berenson nce again he appeared to be a magician. There were those who found his presence staged, but others felt that even to be near him was a magical experience.

The young sisters who became Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill wrote to their mother of visiting Berenson in the summer of 1951 and of how they saw him approaching through the woods at I Tatti. Berenson sat down and immediately began to speak to them of love, distinguishing between people who are “life-enhancing” and “life-diminishing.”

“He is a kind of god like creature,” they wrote. “He is such a genius, such a philosopher, such a pillar of strength and sensitivity, and such a lover of all things. He is a man whose life in beauty is unsurpassable.”

Rachel,Cohen. Bernard Berenson (Jewish Lives)  Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

 

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