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COLLECTION Identifier: BER-20

Frederick Mason Perkins photographs and papers


Photographs, correspondence, notes, and other records. Most photos were sent to Frederick Mason Perkins by collectors and art dealers and they reproduce Italian art.


  • 1890 - 2017
  • Majority of material found within 1898 - 1955


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for materials resides with the creators of the items in question, unless otherwise designated.


49 linear feet (43 photograph boxes, 2 archives boxes, 2 oversize boxes.)
8,457 items : 8,170 photographic prints, 261 letters, and 26 other items

The collection includes vintage photographic prints reproducing European artworks dated from the 13th to the 18th century. The bulk of the collection documents Italian painting mainly from the regions of Florence, Siena, and parts of Central Italy.

The collection provides detailed documentation of paintings and sculptures in American and European private collections and museums during the late 19th and early 20th century, offering an overview of collectors' preferences and taste in that period. On the versos of the photos there are notes by Mason Perkins and Vavasour Elder related to the attribution, date, and literature of the artworks, but most importantly, notes include rich provenance information for the paintings. The materials extensively document some of the most important collections of the time, such as the collections of Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Bernard d’Hendecourt, Dan Fellows Platt, Bernard Berenson, Charles Loeser, Helen Clay Frick, Samuel Henry Kress, Robert Jenkins Nevin, Herbert Horne, Maitland Fuller Griggs, George Blumenthal, and Frederick Mason Perkins. They also record the activity of numerous art dealers in Europe and the U.S. such as Luigi Bellini, Eugenio Ventura, Luigi Albrighi, as well as the Ehrich Galleries. Some interesting photographs show art forgeries that were once accepted as genuine.

A large number of the photographs were commissioned by Frederick Mason Perkins himself and these are often the first reproductions of paintings he found in churches in remote places around Italy. These items illustrate his research interests in the Siena school of painting, his activity as a connoisseur, the role he had in the art market, and his interest in photography.

Mason Perkins’s notes provide valuable information regarding the names of photographers and the dates of photographs. Images of approximately one hundred photographers are part of the collection. Most of them are by the firms Alinari, Anderson, Hanfstaengl, Harry Burton, Lévy, Lombardi, M.N. Conger, Mario Sansoni, Murray K. Keyes, Reali, and Sansoni & Nesti. In addition to the photographs, the collection contains also a limited number of other materials forming series II and III and including notes, photographers' receipts, and scholarly and personal correspondence of interest for art historiography and the history of photography.

Biographical / Historical

Frederick Mason Perkins was born in Plymouth (Mass.) in 1874. He grew up in Shanghai and, although a Protestant, was educated by Jesuits. He studied music and piano in Germany and arrived in Italy in the 1890s. He first settled in Rome, then in Siena, and later in Florence. He acquired the villa Sassoforte in Lastra Signa and decorated it with a collection of early Italian pictures. In Italy he related with members of the Anglo-American community and became a friend of art historians and collectors. These included Bernard and Mary Berenson, Robert Langton Douglas, Robert Hobart Cust, Edward Hutton, William Heywood, Charles Fairfax Murray, and Herbert Horne.

In 1900 Mason Perkins married Lucy Olcott (1877-1922), an art historian and author of the book Guide to Siena. He travelled extensively in Tuscany and Umbria and soon became an expert and leading connoisseur of Sienese art. Often he was the first to identify paintings of old masters in remote churches and to publish these findings in numerous articles in the Rassegna d’Arte Senese, L’Arte, The Burlington Magazine, and other art history journals.

Along with his studies Mason Perkins was engaged as an agent for collectors and acquired paintings and sculptures on their behalf. Some of the most important American and Italian collections of his time were developed with his help. These include the Dan Fellows Platt collection in Englewood and the collections of Helen Frick and George Blumenthal in New York.

After Lucy’s death he married the English art historian Irene Vavasour Elder (1883-1971). In 1928 he converted to Roman Catholicism and added “Francis” to his name. He lived for several decades of his life in Assisi in the house at Piazza del Vescovado, which he bought from Lady Henry Somerset. Part of his art collection was donated to the Sacro Convento of Assisi. He died at the age of 81, in 1955.


The collection is organized in three series: 1. photographs, 2. correspondence, 3. notes, invoices, and other materials. Series 2 and 3 are organized in subseries. Materials within series 1 are arranged as artists files. This reflects the original arrangement by Frederick Mason Perkins although many photos have been reordered after his death. Correspondence in series 2 is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

Other Finding Aids

At the end of series 3 is included an inventory of photographs made by Ennio Riccardi. A printed inventory of photographers present in the collection is available at the repository.

Custodial History

Ennio and Piero Riccardi acquired the collection in the 1960's-1970's through various channels. Some photographs were given to them by Irene Vavasour Elder, while the letters were bought at the Arezzo antiques market ("Fiera antiquaria di Arezzo"). Between 1973-1974 they acquired the bulk of the photographs from art dealers Baldini in Tordibetto di Assisi, and Mazzoni in Rivotorto di Assisi. The Riccardi brothers used the photos as reference materials for their professional activity. They added a few color photographs to the collection that can be easily identified.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Berenson library purchased the Frederick Mason Perkins photographs and papers in 2017 from art dealers Ennio and Piero Riccardi based in Assisi.

Separated Materials

Other papers of Frederick Mason Perkins are held by the Archivio storico diocesano di Assisi.

Some photos originally in the collection are now in the Fondazione Zeri photo archive in Bologna (oral communication of Ennio Riccardi).

Processing Information

The original arrangement and file titles were retained in most cases. Exceptions include artworks by unidentified artists and large-sized materials, which were re-housed into appropriate containers.

Processed by

Spyros Koulouris

Frederick Mason Perkins photographs and papers, 1890-2017: A Finding Aid
Biblioteca Berenson
April 20, 2017
Description rules
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
+39 055 603 251
+39 055 603 383 (Fax)