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Scott, Geoffrey

Date born:  1884

Place Born: Hampstead, London, United Kingdom

Date died:  1929

Place died: New York, NY

Architect, biographer and architectural historian, exponent of the Renaissance architectural style and anti-Ruskin critic. Scott was born to Russell Scott (1837-1908), a successful manufacturer, and Jessie Thurburn (Scott) (1844-1921).  His uncle was Charles Prestwich Scott (1846-1932), the long-time editor of the Manchester Guardian. The affluence of his family allowed Scott to be tutored privately attending Highgate and Rugby schools. He traveled with his family extensively in Italy.  After a year at St Andrews College, he entered New College, Oxford in 1902 studying under the classicist Gilbert Murray (1866-1957).  At Oxford, Scott earned the Newdigate prize in 1906 for a poem, "The Death of Shelley," but more importantly, the chancellor's essay prize in 1908 for an essay on architectural history, "The National Character of English Architecture," which was published.  He also discovered his own bisexuality around this time.  In 1906 together with the Bloomsbury economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), he visited the art historians Bernard Berenson (q.v.) and his wife, Mary Berenson (q.v.) at their villa outside Florence, I Tatti.  Scott developed a strong attachment to Mary and she to him, a woman who herself had left a husband and children to live with and marry Berenson. Scott became Bernard Berenson's librarian at I Tatti comprising part of the Berensons' famous circle of dilettanti.  He traveled with the Berensons throughout Italy.  When Scott failed to distinguish himself as a classical student at Oxford, Mary introduced him to the architect Cecil Pinsent (1884–1963) in 1907. Scott embarked on a career in architecture. He initially assisted Ogden Codman (1863-1951), an American interior designer, on his catalogue raisonné of French châteaux (never published). Though he studied only a few months at the Architectural Association School in London, 1907-1908, he and Pinsent became partners in an architectural practice in Florence. Their initial commission, the renovation of I Tatti's interior and designs for its garden brought them subsequent commissions from the wealthy British and American community in Florence, including a Renaissance-style home for philosopher Charles Augustus Strong (1862-1940), the son-in-law of John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937). They also created alterations to Michelozzo di Bartolomeo’s Villa Medic, Fiesole, owned by the aristocratic widow of an American diplomat, Lady Sybil Marjorie Cutting (1879-1942) .  Scott's avocation was architectural history.  He spent his spare hours researching Renaissance architecture resulting in his 1914 book The Architecture of Humanism.  A serious treatise on the Renaissance architectural style, Architecture of Humanism was organized around debunking various "fallacies," (as Scott called them) largely posited or endorsed by John Ruskin (q.v.), which Scott felt had unnecessarily maligned that genre of architecture.  Scott was a man of numerous love affairs throughout his life.  In 1918 he married his earlier patron, Lady Sybil.  Mary Berenson was horrified and suffered a nervous breakdown;  the rupture with her led to Scott's own stay in1919 in a Lausanne sanitarium. There he began his celebrated biography of the eighteenth-century novelist Madame de Charrière. Scott found employment with the British embassy in Rome, directing its press office. A love affair with Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) in 1923 gave him the literary inspiration to complete his Charrière book. In 1924 a revised edition of The Architecture of Humanism was published with a revised final chapter and an epilogue. The next year he returned to England.  Lady Sybil divorced Scott in 1926 and he moved to the United States in 1927 as the first editor of the Boswell papers, owned by Colonel Ralph H. Isham (1890-1955).  He lived on Long Island, NY, editing the project.  Scott published six volumes of the letters and was contracted by the publisher Houghton Mifflin to write Boswell's biography as well. However, he contracted pneumonia in 1929 and died suddenly.  He was cremated and his ashes placed in New College, Oxford.

The Architecture of Humanism is considered an influential twentieth-century treatise on architecture. In it, Scott attacked Ruskin's condemnation of Renaissance architecture, arguing for a meaningful relationship between architecture and human values (Kleinbauer).  He equally chided form-follows-function notion of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), advocating instead a return to Western classical architecture. Though original in many respects, the book draws upon the art history of Berenson, the writing of Vernon Lee, and the theoretical work of the sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand and the esthetician Theodor Lipps (1851-1914). A personally temperamental and somewhat snobbish man, Scott's genuine breadth of knowledge and creativity (a bed he designed is displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum) was acknowledged by many.

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Wharton, Edith. A Backward Glance. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1934;  Mariano, Nicky.  Forty Years with Berenson. New York: Knopf, 1966; Origo, Iris. Images and Shadows: Part of a Life.  New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971;  Kleinbauer, W. Eugene.  Modern Perspectives in Western Art History:  An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 9-10 [particularly good discussion of Architecture of Humanism]; Strachey, Barbara, and Samuels, Jayne, ed.  Mary Berenson: A Self-Portrait from her Diaries and Letters.  New York: Norton, 1983; Samuels, Ernest and Samuels, Jayne Newcomer. Bernard Berenson: the Making of a Legend. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1987; Higgs, Malcolm.  "Scott, Geoffrey."  Dictionary of Art; Dunn, Richard M. Geoffrey Scott and the Berenson Circle: Literary and Aesthetic Life in the Early 20th Century. Lewiston, UK: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998;  Dunn, Richard M. "Scott, Geoffrey (1884-1929)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Bibliography: The National Character of English Architecture: the Chancellor's Essay, New College, 1908. Oxford: Blackwell, 1908;  The Architecture of Humanism. London: Constable and Company, 1914.