Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) was one of the most important art historians of the 20th century. His family, originally from Lithuania, emigrated to the United States due to religious persecution against the Jewish community. During his years as a student at Harvard, Berenson was a frequent visitor to the Museum of Fine Arts, where he became especially interested in Italian artists. His career began as an art consultant thanks to his wife Mary, a former fellow student who found the right contacts for him and helped him build his reputation as a master of
art. He went on to move to Italy with her in 1890.
A central concept in Berenson's complex aesthetic thinking was that of so-called "tactile values," an element that would be the focus of a bilious controversy with Vernon Lee. The two had a variety of friends in common and frequented the same Anglo-Florentine literary salons, which were places where, according to Berenson, upon hearing about it, Vernon Lee would steal the idea of "tactile values" from him, using it in her own aesthetic writing before he could claim authorship.