Isabella Stewart Gardner and 'the spirit of place' : a spiritual journey through the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


Isabella Stewart Gardner, world traveler and patroness of the arts in the Gilded Age, founded her own personal house museum on the Fens in Boston, Massachusetts in 1902. Upon her death in 1924, she left the museum to the city of Boston with specific instructions that nothing ever should be moved from the way she designed it. As specific as she was in her Will, she did not leave specific instructions for "how" her museum should be viewed. Using the words of Mrs. Gardner's first biographer, Morris Carter, as inspiration, when he wrote that the observations Mrs. Gardner made in her journals reflected her ability to "always [be] sensitive to the 'Spirit of Place'" (35); this dissertation considers the idea that the museum can be experienced as a place of spiritual renewal. The Introduction begins with the author's personal epiphany at the Gardner Museum, and then explores some of Mrs. Gardner's personal influences when building her museum emphasizing a specific connection to those who helped shape Mrs. Gardner's own spiritual life. The body of the dissertation leads the reader on a room-by-room exploration of the museum applying an Ignatian spiritual lens to Mrs. Gardner's historic Palace. One work of art from each gallery is explored in a biographical, historical and spiritual manner. At the conclusion of each chapter, the reader is offered a prayer, or reflective exercise for the reader/viewer. All of the content explored in this dissertation has been researched by the author at various sites in Boston, most notably in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and in the Gardner Museum Archives. This dissertation includes almost seventy images addressing significant pieces of art, architecture and major figures from Mrs. Gardner's life. Most images are provided courtesy of the Archives in the Gardner Museum. Several photographs have been taken by a friend of the author, and the author himself. Finally, one original watercolor by the author is included.