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FONDS Identifier: BER -7

Laurance P. and Isabel S. Roberts papers


Correspondence, writings, photographs and other personal and professional papers of Laurance Roberts and his wife Isabel M. Spaulding. Laurance, Orientalist and museum curator; Assistant Curator of Chinese Art, Brooklyn Museum 1934-1938; Director, 1938-1942; Director American Academy in Rome, 1946-1960; married 1937 Isabel Spaulding (Director, Brooklyn Museum, 1943-1946).


  • Creation: 1910-2005

Conditions on Access


Conditions on use

Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Biblioteca Berenson's usual procedures. Copyright: The donors have transferred any copyright held in these papers to the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors’ heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright, before publishing quotations from any material of the collection.


50.0 linear feet ([84 file boxes (1391 folders), 8 card file boxes, 68 albums of photographs, 1 flat oversize box])

The papers in this collection document Laurance and Isabel Roberts's personal and professional life, their international travels, their vast network of contacts and relationships, and Laurance’s career, publishing projects, and involvement on boards and associations. The papers date from 1910 to 2005, with the bulk spanning the years 1937-2000. The documentation includes financial and health-related records, correspondence, diplomas, travel material, object lists, negatives, photographs, printed material, newspaper and journal clippings. All materials in the collection have been re-housed into archival folders and boxes. The original folder titles have been retained; any added information has been enclosed in square brackets by the processing archivist. Acidic documents have been isolated with archival paper and in some cases enclosed in mylar. Fragile materials have also been enclosed in mylar. Oversize materials have been filed in an oversize box and cabinet; separation sheets indicate their removal. These oversize materials may be consulted upon request, and their location is indicated in the detailed container list that follows. A group of 8 mm motion pictures, for the years 1958-1961, documenting trips of American Academy Fellows and of the travels of Roberts have been converted into DVD format. The collection is arranged in 8 series: Personal and Biographical; Diaries; Correspondence; Professional; Writings; Collected material; Negatives, and Photographs.

Series II Diaries and V Writings are subdivided into subseries titled to Laurance P. Roberts (LPR) and Isabel (Spaulding) Roberts (ISR). The other series have not been subdivided between LPR and ISR because the papers document a life shared in all its aspects. For example, for Professional series, both Laurance and Isabel worked for the Brooklyn Museum, even if in different periods, with Isabel taking on Laurance’s duties when he served in the army during World War II. Additionally, they formed a team in the Direction of the American Academy in Rome, as well as in other cultural commitments. Series III Correspondence is subdivided into 2 Subseries: Subseries 1 includes correspondence sent to ISR, LPR, or to both. Letters filed in this series cover many topics, personal and professional, and were organized by Isabel in groups, arranged by recipient, until the last years, when she stored them in chronological order. All the folders have been filed alphabetically. Subseries 2 includes two groups of letters sent from Laurance and Isabel to their respective mothers and families. Returned to the senders presumably at the recipients’ death, they were included in the archive upon its arrival to I Tatti. Letters originally held in other files (professional, financial) have been left in their original place: cross references have been made, and lists of correspondents are available for archive users. In Series V Writings, the entire material relating to publication (cards, drafts, and proofs) have been preserved for LPR’s The Guide to Japanese Museum (1967) and The Bernard Berenson Collection of Oriental Art at Villa I Tatti (1991): the first being LPR’s most important work, the second being strictly related to I Tatti history. Series VI contains a huge amount of printed documentation collected by ISR regarding Roberts’ friends and relatives, consisting of little publications or clippings. Series VI and VII includes mainly visual material taken by Isabel: negatives generally refer to their photographs owned. More than 40 albums created by ISR spanning the years 1910-1978 document the Roberts’s life, with their international travels, and their intense social life, noting with precision names of places, dates, and people. Sometimes the photographs show very important sites and monuments no longer existing.


Laurance Page Roberts was born in Bala Cynwyd, PA, 1 October 1907. His grandfather, George Brook Roberts (1833-1897) had been President of the Pennsylvania Railroad and his father, George Brinton Roberts, a coal magnate. Laurance Roberts attended the Montgomery School in Philadelphia and St George's School in Rhode Island before entering Princeton in 1925. He graduated from Princeton University in 1929 (magna cum laude), a classmate and friend of John D. Rockefeller III (1906-1978). After a year of post-graduate work, Roberts accepted a position at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Without specialized training in Asian art, Roberts was asked if he would work in the Chinese department in 1930. Two years later his father sent him on a study tour of Japan and China. In China he met Harold Acton (1904-1994) who was teaching at the National University in Beijing. In 1934 Laurance Roberts was appointed curator of the Oriental art department of the Brooklyn Museum. In 1937 he married Isabel Milliken Spaulding, a Vassar alumna in the Education Department. She was born in Springfield, 10 July 1911, to Morrill Spaulding and Helen Marie Amstrong. The two traveled widely for the museum and their research. In 1938 Roberts was appointed Director of the Museum, a position he held until World War II. Beginning in 1942, Roberts served as a captain in army intelligence, his wife taking over his museum duties until 1946. That year the Roberts moved to Rome, where he was director of the American Academy. In 1960 Roberts retired, returning briefly to New York to be the first director of the State Council of the Arts, 1960-61, before moving back to Europe, living in Venice, Paris and London. In 1967 Roberts published his Connoisseur's Guide to Japanese Museums. His Dictionary of Japanese Artists, published in 1976, remains an important resource for biographies of artists from Japan. In 1988 the Roberts moved to Baltimore where Laurance died in 2002, and Isabel three years later, in 2005.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Series I: Personal and Biographical Subseries
  2. ___ 1: Biographical Subseries
  3. ___2: Legal and Financial Subseries
  4. ___3: Personal Subseries
  5. ___4: Travels
  6. Series: II. Diaries
  7. ___Subseries 1: LPR
  8. ___Subseries 2: ISR
  9. Series III: Correspondence Subseries
  10. ___ 1: ISR and LPR Subseries
  11. ___ 2: Family
  12. Series IV: Professional
  13. ___Subseries 1: Pennsylvania Museum of Art
  14. ___Subseries 2: Brooklyn Museum
  15. ___Subseries 3: American Academy in Rome
  16. ___Subseries 4: Council of the Arts
  17. ___Subseries 5: Princeton
  18. ___Subseries 6: The International Council of the Museum of Modern Art NY
  19. ___Subseries 7: last years
  20. Series V: Writings
  21. ___Subseries 1: LPR
  22. ___Subseries 2: ISR
  23. Series VI: Collected Material
  24. ___Subseries 1: Friends
  25. ___Subseries 2: Bibliographical material
  26. ___ Subseries 3: Travels
  27. Series VII: Negatives
  28. ___Subseries 1: boxes
  29. ___Subseries 2: Chronological albums
  30. Series VII: Photographs
  31. ___Subseries 1: Albums
  32. ___Subseries 2: Loose Photographs

Other Finding Aid

A more analytical finding aid on paper is available in the repository.

Acquisition Information

Bequest of Laurance P. and Isabel M. Roberts.

Related Material

There are additional professional papers of Laurance and Isabel Roberts located in Brooklyn Museum Archive. They are listed as Office of the Director records (Laurance Page Roberts, 1938-1943; Isabel Spaulding Roberts, 1943-1946). Catalogue records for these materials can be accessed via Archive Grid.

Professional papers of Laurance Roberts regarding American Academy in Rome are located in Washington, Smithsonian Archives of American Art: American Academy in Rome records, 1855-[ca.1981] (for Roberts Correspondence see mainly Reels 5759, 5798-5799).

Processing Information

Processed by Ilaria Della Monica, 2007.

Laurance P. and Isabel S. Roberts papers, 1910-2005: A Finding Aid
Biblioteca Berenson
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti - The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies Repository

Via di Vincigliata 26
Florence 50135 Italy
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