Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: BER-25

Nicolai Rubinstein papers


Comprises Nicolai Rubinstein's study materials, correspondence, and writings. The collection also includes reproductions of the letters of Lorenzo de' Medici.


  • 1935 - 2002


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English, French, German, 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.


54 linear feet

The collection consists of research papers related to Nicolai Rubinstein’s academic career at both Westfield College and the Warburg Institute, as well as his role as collaborator on programs at I Tatti. The collection primarily includes his professional correspondence with students and scholars, autograph manuscript notes, and materials related to his participation in publications, conferences, courses, lectures, and seminars. A large number of photographs reproducing the letters of Lorenzo de’ Medici is also part of the collection.

Most materials deal with Italian history of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, especially topics such as oligarchy and democracy, the Great Council at Florence, the government of the Medici family, political thought and iconography, the Palazzo Vecchio and piazza Signoria in Florence, and the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. Other studies focus on single individuals, including Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, Piero de’ Medici, Marsilio da Padova, and Dante.

Additionally, the collection contains records of various committees of which Nicolai Rubinstein was a member, such as Firenze Viva and the Italian Art and Archives Fund (IAARF). The latter was created in 1966 to raise money after the Florence and Venice floods.

Biographical / Historical

Nicolai Rubinstein was born in Berlin into a Jewish family in 1911. His father was Latvian and his mother was Hungarian. He studied history and philosophy in Berlin and in 1933 he emigrated with his family to Paris, while he was already working on his doctoral thesis on the Paduan humanist Pier Paolo Vergerio, under the supervision of Hans Baron. In December of the same year he moved to Florence, and continued his research under the supervision of the Russian scholar Nicola Ottokar. He defended his doctoral thesis entitled “La lotta contro i magnati” at the University of Florence in 1935 and became Ottokar’s assistant in charge of undergraduate teaching until 1938.

He left Italy in the spring of 1939 to return to Paris and later moved to Oxford. From January 1942 he taught history at Southampton University College. From 1945 until his retirement in 1978 he taught medieval European history and the history of political ideas from Plato to Machiavelli at Westfield College, part of the University of London. He also organized special courses with subjects on Florence during the Renaissance. In 1954 he married art historian Ruth Kidder Olitsky. After retiring he became a fellow of the Warburg Institute and kept an office there until his death. He also taught for one semester at the University of Florence, in 1983.

Nicolai Rubinstein was one of the most influential teachers of medieval and Renaissance Italian history. During his lifetime he published a large number of articles and participated in numerous conferences. His most important books are “The Palazzo Vecchio, 1298-1532,” and “The Government of Florence under the Medici.” He was also general editor and major contributor to the edition of the letters of Lorenzo il Magnifico.

In 1991 he was awarded honorary citizenship of Florence. He died in London on 19 August 2002. Ruth Rubinstein died only ten days after.


The collection is organized in 4 series: 1. Letters of Lorenzo de' Medici, 2. personal materials and correspondence, 3. study materials, and 4. other materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection donated by Francis William Kent.

Processed by

Ilaria della Monica and Spyros Koulouris

Nicolai Rubinstein. papers, 1935-2002: A Finding Aid
Biblioteca Berenson
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)