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Event Details

Fri, December 06, 2019

10:00 – 17:30

Villa La Pietra
Via Bolognese, 120
50139 Firenze, Italy

Mary McCarthy’s celebrated essay on the art, history, and character of Florence — The Stones of Florence — was first published in the New Yorker and then as a book in 1959. As the companion volume to her Venice Observed (1956), The Stones of Florence offered a crucial postwar perspective from a major American intellectual, considering Florence and the Renaissance, at the end of the decade that witnessed the first major wave of American air travel and tourism to Florence, Italy, and Europe.
McCarthy, famous for her essays (“Memories of a Catholic Girlhood” and, later, “On the Contrary”) and fiction (The Company She Keeps, and, later, The Group) stood at the very center of American intellectual life and debate. The New York Times in 1959 felt that “no student of the Renaissance should be without The Stones of Florence,” and we propose in 2019 to take stock of McCarthy’s mid-century approach to Florence and the Renaissance, after the war and before the flood, with a fierce emphasis on sculpture and architecture and her own ideas about the significance of Renaissance humanism. She visited Villa La Pietra while working on the book, and met with Harold Acton, and we are interested in bringing her back to the villa with this retrospective event.

The conference participants will include family and friends of Mary McCarthy, as well as scholars and critics interested in The Stones of Florence.

Reuel Wilson, Scholar, Writer, Memoirist
Natsuko Wilson,
Pianist and Writer
Sophia Wilson Niehaus,
Executor, Mary McCarthy Literary Trust
Gaia Servadio,
Writer and Journalist
Benjamin Wohlauer,
United States Consul General in Florence
Monsignor Timothy Verdon,
Director, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
Thomas Mallon,
Novelist, Essayist, Critic
Rosella Mamoli Zorzi,
Professor of American Literature, Venice
Cynthia Zarin, Poet and Writer
Joseph Giovannini,
Architect and Architectural Critic
Ilaria Della Monica,
Archivist and Art Historian, Villa I Tatti
Elisa Biagini,
Poet, NYU Florence
Perri Klass,
Journalist and Pediatrician; Co-director, NYU Florence
Larry Wolff,
Historian, Co-director, NYU Florence


9:30-10:00 AM Coffee

10:00-10:15 AM Opening of Conference
Welcome: Perri Klass and Larry Wolff, Co-Directors, NYU Florence

10:15-11:00 AM Opening Reflections
Reuel Wilson, Retired Professor of Russian, Polish, and Comparative Literature, University of Western Ontario
Author of the memoirs: To the Life of the Silver Harbor: Edmund Wilson & Mary McCarthy on Cape Cod and Holding the Road: Away from Edmund Wilson & Mary McCarthy

11:00 AM-12:00 PM The Stones of Florence in the Context of McCarthy’s Literary Work
Thomas Mallon, Novelist, Essayist, and Critic; Professor Emeritus of English, George Washington University
Editor of the Library of America edition, Mary McCarthy: The Complete Fiction

Perri Klass, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics, New York University; Co-Director, NYU Florence

12:00-12:15 PM Coffee Break

12:15-1:15 PM Mary McCarthy in Italy: Around The Stones of Florence
Sophia Wilson Niehaus, Ph.D. French Literature, NYU; Executor, Mary McCarthy Literary Trust
Natsuko Wilson, Pianist and Writer
Author of Mary McCarthy: My Mother-in-Law, published in Japanese

Ilaria Della Monica, Art Historian; Head Archivist, Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti
Speaking on the Mary McCarthy-Bernard Berenson correspondence

1:15-2:30 PM Lunch (Optional Tour of the VLP Collection, 1:45-2:30 PM)

2:30-3:45 PM The Stones of Florence in the Context of Anglo-American Travelers and Writers in Italy
Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, Professor of American Literature, University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari
Author of Almost a Prophet: Henry James on Tintoretto and Ralph W. Curtis, un pittore americano a Venezia

Cynthia Zarin, Poet and Writer; Senior Lecturer in English, Yale University
Author of Two Cities (forthcoming)

Comment: Benjamin Wohlauer, United States Consul General in Florence

3:45-4:45 PM The Stones of Florence and the Renaissance: History, Art, and Architecture
Joseph Giovannini, Architect and Architectural Critic (The New York Times, New York Magazine, Architectural Record, Art Forum, Architect Magazine)

Larry Wolff, Professor of History, NYU; Co-Director NYU Florence

4:45-5:00 PM Coffee Break

5:00-5:30 PM Forum Discussion: Writing and Teaching with Mary McCarthy
Elisa Biagini, Poet, NYU Florence

Perri Klass, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics, NYU

5:30-6:15 PM Concluding Reflections: Mary McCarthy’s Florence
Gaia Servadio, Writer and Journalist
Author of Renaissance Woman

6:15-7:15 PM Reception

Mary McCarthy and "The Stones of Florence" (1959): 60 Years Later

Photographs from the conference

Featured Biographies

Reuel Wilson

Scholar, writer, memoirist

Reuel Wilson graduated from Harvard in 1960, with a BA in Romance Languages; MA, UC Berkeley (where he studied with Czeslaw Milosz) in Slavic, 1963; PhD Chicago, Comparative Literature, 1971. He taught at the University of Western Ontario, Canada,  from 1970 until his retirement in 2004. He wrote widely about Russian and Polish literature. Major publications: The Literary Travelogue, 1973; Poland’s Caribbean Tragedy (with Jan Pachonski), 1986; To the Life of the Silver Harbor, 2008; Holding the Road, 2019. The last two works show how his parents, Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy, influenced his own wide-ranging interest in foreign languages and cultures. They motivated him to learn Italian and study in Italy during his undergraduate years.

Natsuko Wilson

Pianist and writer

Natsuko Wilson, pianist and author, holds an MA from Tokyo University of Arts and an MA from Western University, Canada. Specializing in chamber music, she has played the piano with groups in North America. As an author, she has published books in Japan on Mary McCarthy, Gertrude Stein, Niagara Falls, and Cuba as well as My Canadian Crime Notebook. Currently a book on Edmund Wilson is being considered by a publisher in Japan. She is a member of GUSTS (Tanka Canada).

Sophia Wilson Niehaus


Sophia Wilson Niehaus is the executor of the Mary McCarthy Literary Trust and a lecturer in French at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. She earned a PhD in 20th century French literature from New York University, an MA in French literature from NYU in Paris, and a BA in English and French from Vassar College. She has recently written two articles concerning the literary friendships of Mary McCarthy, formed after she left the United States for Paris in the early 1960s, with the French intellectuals Nathalie Sarraute and Monique Wittig

Gaia Servadio


Born in Italy, Gaia Servadio has lived in England for over 60 years.
She has written for newspapers and magazines on music, politics and literature, has published 37 books and is a regular broadcaster.
From 1989 to 1994 she was Literary Advisor to the Accademia Italiana where she organised a cycle of lectures with Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell, Al Alvarez and Stephen Spender.
In 1985 she was honored with the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale of the Italian Republic, and in 2001 Commendatore al merito della Repubblica italiana. She was Vice President of the Foreign Press in London and is vice chairman of FAIUK.
Among her books: Melinda (Farrar Straus & Giroux, reviewed by Mary McCarthy in The New York Times), Luchino Visconti, Una infanzia diversa, The Real Traviata, Motya, Rossini, Woman in the Renaissance, Raccogliamo le vele, I viaggi di Dio, L’italiano più famoso del mondo.

Benjamin Wohlauer


Benjamin Wohlauer took charge on July 7, 2017 as the 44th Consul General of the United States in Florence, covering Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and the Republic of San Marino.
Prior to arriving in Italy, Mr. Wohlauer served in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs as the Director of the Office of Economic Policy. From 2008-11, he served in the U.S. Consulate in Milan as Political/Economic Section Chief. His other overseas postings have been in Jakarta, St. Petersburg, Rangoon, and Tokyo.
Mr. Wohlauer was born in Massachusetts and is a lifelong citizen of Red Sox Nation. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College, and master’s degrees from the George Washington University and the National War College. He is married to career Foreign Service Officer Mary Ellen Countryman.

Timonthy Verdon

Canon of Florence Cathedral Director of the Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage, Archdiocese of Florence; Director, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence; Director, Centre for Ecumenism, Archdiocese of Florence; Academic Director, Ecumenical Center for Art and Spirituality ‘Mount Tabor’, Barga (LU); Burke Professor in Art History, Stanford University Florence Program

Timothy Verdon, a Roman Catholic priest and canon of Florence Cathedral, is an art historian with a PhD from Yale University who has been a Fellow of the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti), at Florence, and an appointed consultant of the Vatican Commission for Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage. Monsignor Verdon, author of numerous books and articles on Christian art, is also Burke Instructor in the Stanford University program in Florence, and has curated old- master exhibits in Turin, Seoul, Washington, D.C., and New York City; he is currently preparing a show for the Musée Royale des Beaux Arts of Bruxelles for 2020. Director of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence and of the Office of Sacred Art of the Florentine Archdiocese, Verdon-together with colleagues in France and Russia-has organized scholarly meetings in Paris, Strasbourg and, in conjunction with the German Institute, in Florence. He has recently become a member of the Prague-based restoration research group ‘Insight Art’.

Thomas Mallon


Thomas Mallon’s ten books of fiction include Henry and Clara, Fellow Travelers, Watergate (a Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award) and the just-published Landfall. He has also written volumes of nonfiction about plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two books of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact). His work frequently appears in The New Yorker and New York Times Book Review. He is the editor of the Library of America edition, Mary McCarthy: The Complete Fiction. He received his Ph. D. from Harvard University and taught English for a number of years at Vassar College. His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, as well as the Vursell prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for distinguished prose style. He is a former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is Professor Emeritus of English at The George Washington University and lives in Washington, D.C.

Rosella Mamoli Zorzi

Professor Emerita of North American Literature, University of Venice, Ca' Foscari

Rosella Mamoli Zorzi is professor emerita of North American Literature, University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari. She edited In Venice and in the Veneto with Ernest Hemingway, with G. Moriani, 2011; and On Hemingway’s Trail in the Veneto, with Giandomenico Cortese, Gianni Moriani, and Richard Owen, 2017. She also edited several volumes of letters by Henry James, Letters to Miss Allen, 1993; Letters from the Palazzo Barbaro, 1998 (repr. 2002, 2012); Beloved Boy: Letters to Hendrik C. Andersen, 2004; Letters to Isabella Stewart Gardner, 2009. She has worked on the relationship between American writers and Venetian painters, in Wonder and Irony: With Henry James and Mark Twain in the Venice Ducal Palace, 2018; and ‘Almost a Prophet’: Henry James on Tintoretto, 2018; and on American painters in Venice: Ralph W. Curtis, un pittore americano a Venezia, 2019

Cynthia Zarin

Poet and writer

Cynthia Zarin is a Senior Lecturer in English at Yale College and a Visiting Lecturer at the Yale School of Architecture. The author of five books of poetry, most recently, Orbit (2017), five books for children, and a collection of essays, An Enlarged Heart: A Personal History (2013). Honors and awards include the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the New York Women’s Press Award for Writing on the Arts. A long-time contributor to The New Yorker, she is a Resident Writer for the dance company, BalletCollective, and has collaborated with the jazz composer Massimo Nunzi, (“Port Imperial,” a poem set for voice and ensemble, premiered at the Teatro Marcello in Rome in 2018.) Her new book, Two Cities, essays about Venice and Rome, is forthcoming from David Zwirner Books this spring.

Joseph Giovannini

Architect and architectural critic

Joseph Giovannini is a critic, architect, and teacher based in New York and Los Angeles. He has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Architect Magazine, and Architectural Record, and has authored many monographs and museum catalogue essays. His designs for apartments, lofts, galleries and additions have been widely published. He has taught graduate design studios at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, and at the University of Innsbruck. He holds a Master in Architecture degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. He did his B.A. in English at Yale University, and an M.A in French Language and Literature from Middlebury College for work done at the Sorbonne in Paris. He has been nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize in criticism. His book Architecture Unbound: A Century of the Disruptive Avant Garde will be published by Rizzoli this coming fall.

Ilaria Della Monica

Archivist and art historian, Villa I Tatti

Ilaria Della Monica is the Archivist of the Biblioteca Berenson at I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.
A graduate in Art History from the University of Florence, she specializes in the history of Italian still-life painting between the late sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, with a particular emphasis on Tuscany. She is the co-author of many books and exhibition catalogues concerning the history of still-life painting and its collecting, and has also co-authored and contributed to the creation of the catalogue of the Museo della Natura Morta in Poggio a Caiano.
In recent years, Della Monica’s research has focused on Mary Berenson s personality and the role she played in Bernard Berenson’s writings and studies. She has published articles based on Mary Berenson’s diaries and correspondence and has curated an online edition of the Berenson Library archive’s collection of Mary’s diaries.

Elisa Biagini


Elisa Biagini lives in Florence, Italy after having taught and studied in the U.S. for several years. Her poems have been published in several Italian and American reviews and anthologies. She has published 7 poetry collectionssome bilingualsuch as L’Ospite, (Einaudi 2004), Fiato. Parole per musica (Edizioni d’if 2006), Nel Bosco (Einaudi 2007) and Da una crepa (Einaudi 2014; translations: The Plant of dreaming, Xenos books/Chelsea editions 2017 and Depuis une fissure, Cadastre8zero 2018- Prix Nunc 2018). A selection of her poems came out in New York in 2013 (The Guest in the Wood, Chelsea editions- 2014 Best Translated Book Award). Her poems have been translated into many languages and she has been invited to the most important international poetry festivals. She teaches Writing at NYU Florence.

Perri Klass


Perri Klass is Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University and Co-Director of NYU Florence; she practices pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital. Dr. Klass writes the weekly column, “The Checkup,” for the New York Times. Her nonfiction books include Every Mother is a Daughter, coauthored with her mother, and Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In, coauthored with Eileen Costello, M.D., A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, and Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician’s Training. Her most recent books are The Mercy Rule, a novel, and Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor. Dr. Klass is the National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, which works through pediatric primary care to promote reading aloud to young children.

Larry Wolff


Larry Wolff is the Silver Professor of History at New York University,  Executive Director of the NYU Remarque Institute, and Co-Director of NYU Florence. His most recent book is The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon (2016). He is also the author of Paolina’s Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova’s Venice (2012); The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture (2010), Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment (2001), Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (1994), The Vatican and Poland in the Age of the Partitions (1988); and Postcards From the End of the World: Child Abuse in Freud’s Vienna (1988). His next forthcoming book (2020) is Woodrow Wilson and the Reimagining of Eastern Europe.  He has received Fulbright, American Council of Learned Societies, and Guggenheim fellowships, and he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.