Federico Zeri was born in Rome in 1921 and died on October 5, 1998 at his villa in Mentana. Eccentric scholar and art historian, is considered one of the greatest connoisseurs of the twentieth century. When at the University of Rome in the early 1940s, Zeri followed the courses of Pietro Toesca, under whom he graduated in 1945. Zeri's unconventional approach to the discipline made an early appearance in his degree thesis, where the subject was Jacopino del Conte, a painter of Roman Mannerism to whom little importance was given at the time. Zeri would often choose obscure viewpoints from which to ask innovative questions on the great themes in art history. It was Toesca who introduced him to Bernard Berenson, a figure who deeply fascinated the young Zeri, who would later dedicate to him his book on the Master of the Barberini Panels. At the end of the war Zeri made the acquaintance of Giuliano Briganti, Mario Praz, as well as Roberto Longhi, a maestro with a strong and charismatic personality with whom he was to have a quarrelsome and sometimes competitive relationship. He took up employment on the fine arts committee of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, and in 1948 was appointed director of the Galleria Spada in Rome. He left this position at the beginning of the 1950s after publishing a fundamental catalog of the collection, published by Sansoni in 1954. From then on, Zeri's career was that of an independent art historian. His interest in rediscovering minor areas of art production led to a philological and historical recuperation of forgotten artists, lost pictorial series, and an entire figurative geography overlooked by scholars. His first trips to Paris and London between 1947 and 1948 brought him in contact with leading figures in international connoisseurship like Philip Pouncey, Denis Mahon, John Pope-Hennessy and Frederick Antal. Zeri later claimed to owe a great deal to Antal for his interest in the relations between art and society. He combined his talent as a connoisseur with a close network of relations which brought him into contact with the leading collectors and antiquarians of the time, including Vittorio Cini, J. Paul Getty, Alessandro Contini Bonacossi and Daniel Wildenstein. Of great significance were his relations with the United States: as a visiting professor at Harvard University in Cambridge (Mass.) and New York's Columbia University, as well as being instrumental in setting up the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He curated the repertory of Italian paintings in public American collections (Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections, 1972), as well as the catalogues of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore (1976), and the four volumes of the catalogue of Italian paintings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1971, 1973, 1980, 1986). From 1975 to 1984 he was the only European trustee of the J. Paul Getty Museum. In 1993 he was appointed deputy chairman of the national council for the cultural heritage. In April 1997, he was admitted as a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. On February 6th, 1998 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bologna.
Zeri, F. (1954). La Galleria Spada in Roma: catalogo dei dipinti. Firenze: Sansoni
Zeri, F. (1959). La Galleria Pallavicini in Roma: catalogo dei dipinti. Firenze: Sansoni
Zeri, F. (1957). Pittura e Controriforma: L'arte senza tempo di Scipione da Gaeta. Torino: Einaudi
Zeri, F. (1961). Due dipinti, la filologia e un nome: Il Maestro delle Tavole Barberini. Torino: Einaudi
Zeri, F. (1972). Census of pre-nineteenth-century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Zeri, F. (1976). Italian Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery
Zeri, F. (1983). Diari di lavoro 1. Torino: Einaudi