Borenius, Tancred

Full Name
Borenius, Carl Tancred
Other Names
Carl Borenius
Date Born
14 July 1885
Date Died
02 September 1948
Place Born
Home Country

Italian Renaissance scholar, dealer, and art magazine editor. He was born in Viipuri or Wiborg, Finland, which is present-day Vyborg, Russia. Borenius was the son of Carl Borenius, a member of the Finnish Diet. Borenius was educated at the Swedish Lyceum and before Helsinki University (Helsingfors), then Berlin and Rome. In Helsinki, he studied under J. J. Tikkanen. After receiving his Ph.D. in Helsingfors in 1909, he moved to London where he published a version of his dissertation, Painters of Vincenza (1909). The same year he married Anne-Marie Rüneberg (1885-1976, granddaughter of the Finnish poet J. L. Rüneberg (1807-1877). Roger Fry became a close friend, providing him entré into the art circles of London. An updated 1912 edition of The History of Painting in North Italy by Joseph Archer Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle bore notes by Borenius. In 1914 he was appointed lecturer at University College, London, in the position vacated by Fry. When Finland achieved independence, he acted as secretary of the diplomatic mission (1918) and later as representative of Finland in London (1919). From 1922-1947 he was Durning-Lawrence Professor at the College. It was during this period that he published his major books. In 1925 he contributed commentary to the new edition of the standard Finnish-language art survey of Carl Gustaf Estlander. Although initially an historian of Italian art, Borenius also became an expert of the art of his adopted country. His methodology employed significant connoisseurship. He helped found Apollo in 1925, to which he often contributed. Borenius' opinion on art was highly valued in England; he was advisor to the Earl of Harewood's art collection and, in 1924, Sotheby's auction house. Together with E. W. Tristram he published English Medieval Painting in 1929. In 1932 he became active in archaeology by launching the dig at Clarendon Palace (Salisbury). Borenius played an influential role in two scholarly art journals. After admission to the Burlington Fine Arts Club, he contributed many articles to the Burlington Magazine, later acting as its editor between 1940-1944 after the brief tenure of A.C. Sewter. Borenius suffered a nervous breakdown and was no longer considered reliable on attributions at Sotheby's (and considered himself too grand to do the work of cataloging), and was replaced in 1945 by Hans-D. Gronau at Sotheby's and by Ellis K. Waterhouse at the Magazine.  Among his book editing duties, in addition to the History of Painting in Italy, he assisted with the volume On Art and Connoisseurship (1942) by Walter Friedlaender. He died after a long illness. His students included Enriqueta Harris and Mary Chamot.

Selected Bibliography

and Tristram, E. W. English Medieval Painting. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929; English Painting in the XVIIIth Century. Paris: Hyperion Press, 1938; The Picture Gallery of Andrea Vendramin. London: Medici Society, 1923; revised with Douglas, Langton, and Strong, S. Arthur: Crowe, J. A., and Cavalcaselle, Giovanni Battista. A History of Painting in Italy, Umbria, Florence and Siena, from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. London: J. Murray, 1903-14; edited: Friedländer, Max J. On Art and Connoisseurship. London, B. Cassirer, 1942.


Sutton, Denys. Dictionary of Art 4: 302-3; Encyclopedia Britannica Online; Vakkari, Johanna. "Alcuni contemporanei finlandesi di Lionello Venturi: Osvald Siren, Tancred Borenius, Onni Okkonen." Storia dell'Arte 101 (2002): 108-17; [obituaries:] Douglas, R. Langton, and Evans, Joan, et al. "Dr Tancred Borenius." Burlington Magazine 40 (1948): 327-8; "Professor Tancred Borenius." The Times (London) September 4, 1948; p. 6; [Sotheby's appraisal:] "Carmen Gronau." Times (London), March 11, 1999; Watling, Lucy. “Émigré to Editor: Edith Hoffmann and the Burlington Magazine 1938–1951.” Tate Art Writers in Britain