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Benvenuto Cellini (; 3 November 1500 – 13 February 1571) was an Italian , , , and , who also wrote a famous . He was one of the most important artists of .


Benvenuto Cellini was born in , in present-day . His parents were Giovanni Cellini, and Maria Lisabetta Granacci. They were married for eighteen years before the birth of their first child. Benvenuto was the second child of the family. The son of a musician and builder of musical instruments, Cellini was pushed towards music, but when he was age fifteen, his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to a , Antonio di Sandro, nicknamed . At the age of sixteen, Benvenuto had already attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an with youthful companions. He was banished for six months and lived in , where he worked for a goldsmith named Fracastoro (unrelated to the Veronese ). From Siena he moved to , where he became a more accomplished player and made progress as a goldsmith. After a visit to and two periods of living in Florence (where he was visited by the sculptor ), he moved to , at the age of nineteen.Cellini, Vita, Book 1, Ch XIII

Work in Rome
His first works in Rome were a silver , silver , and a for the , which won him the approval of . Another celebrated work from is the gold medallion of "" executed for the , and which is now in the in Florence. He also took up the flute again, and was appointed one of the pope's court musicians.

In the attack on by , Cellini's bravery proved of signal service to the . According to his own accounts, he himself shot and injured .Cellini, Vita, Book 1, Ch XXXVIII (Allegedly Cellini also killed during the .) His bravery led to a reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates,Cellini, Vita, Book 1, Ch XXXIX and he soon returned to his hometown of . Here he devoted himself to crafting medals, the most famous of which are " and the Nemean Lion", in gold repoussé work, and " supporting the Sphere", in chased gold, the latter eventually falling into the possession of .

From he went to the court of the duke of , and then back to Florence. On returning to Rome, he was employed in the working of and in the execution of dies for private medals and for the . In 1529 his brother Cecchino killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and in turn was wounded by an (rifleman), later dying of his wound. Soon afterward Benvenuto killed his brother's killer – an act of but not justice as Cellini admits that his brother's killer had acted in self-defense.Cellini, Vita, Book 1, Ch LI Cellini fled to to shelter from the consequences of an affray with a , Ser Benedetto, whom he had wounded. Through the influence of several , Cellini obtained a pardon. He found favor with the new pope, , notwithstanding a fresh homicide during the three days after the death of Pope Clement VII in September 1534. The fourth victim was a rival goldsmith, Pompeo of Milan.Cellini, Vita, Book 1, Ch LXXIII

Ferrara and France
The plots of led to Cellini's retreat from to and , where he was restored with greater honour than before. At the age of 37, upon returning from a visit to the French court, he was imprisoned on a charge (apparently false) of having embezzled the gems of the pope's during the war. He was confined to the , escaped, was recaptured, and treated with great severity; he was in daily expectation of death on the . The intercession of Pier Luigi's wife, and especially that of the Cardinal d'Este of , eventually secured Cellini's release, in gratitude for which he gave d'Este a splendid cup.Cellini, Vita, Book 2, Ch II

Cellini then worked at the court of at and . However, he considered the to be set against him and refused to conciliate with the king's favorites. He could no longer silence his enemies by the sword, as he had silenced those in . As a result, after about five years of invested work but continual jealousy and violence, Cellini returned to , where he continued as a and became the rival of sculptor Cellini, Vita, Book 2, Ch. III who died a few years later in 1560.

Death in Florence
During the war with , Cellini was appointed to strengthen the defences of his native city, and, though rather shabbily treated by his ducal patrons, he continued to gain the admiration of his fellow citizens by the magnificent works which he produced. He was also named a member ( Accademico) of the prestigious of , founded by the Duke , on 13 January 1563, under the influence of the architect . He died in on 13 May 1571 and was buried with great pomp in the church of the . In Florence he had supported a widowed sister and her six daughters.

Personal relationships
Cellini is known to have taken some of his female models as mistresses, having an illegitimate daughter in 1544 with one of them while living in , whom he named Costanza.Cellini, Vita, Book 2, Ch XXXVII After briefly attempting a clerical career, in 1562 he married a servant, Piera Parigi, with whom he claimed he had five children, of which only a son and two daughters survived him.

Aside from his , Cellini was officially accused or charged with the crime of once with a woman and at least three times with men, illustrating his tendencies:

  • 14 January 1523 he was sentenced to pay 12 staia of flour for relations with a boy named Domenico di ser Giuliano da Ripa.I. Arnaldi, La vita violenta di Benvenuto Cellini, Bari, 1986
  • While in Paris, a former model and lover brought charges against him of using her "after the Italian fashion." (i.e. sodomy)
  • In in 1548, Cellini was accused by a woman named Margherita, for having certain familiarities with her son, Vincenzo.L. Greci, 'Benventuto Cellini nei delitti e nei processi fiorentini' Archivio di anthroplogia criminale, 50 (1930)
  • 26 February 1556, his apprentice Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano accused his mentor of having sodomised him many times."Cinque anni ha tenuto per suo ragazzo Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano, giovanetto con el quale ha usato carnalmente moltissime volte col nefando vitio della soddomia, tenendolo in letto come sua moglie" (For five years he kept as his boy Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano, a youth whom he used carnally in the abject vice of sodomy numerous instances, keeping him in his bed as a wife.) This time the penalty was a hefty fifty golden fine, and four years of prison, remitted to four years of thanks to the intercession of the .

Towards the end of his life during a public altercation before Duke , had called out to him Sta cheto, soddomitaccio! (Shut up, you filthy sodomite!) Cellini described this as an "atrocious insult". Vita, Book II, Ch. LXXI


Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini executed of a grander scale. One of the main projects of his French period is probably the Golden Gate for the . Only the bronze tympanum of this unfinished work, which represents the (, ), still exists, but the complete aspect can be known through archives, preparatory drawings and reduced casts.For a graphic restitution of the Golden Gate, see Thomas Clouet, "Fontainebleau de 1541 à 1547. Pour une relecture des Comptes des Bâtiments du roi", Bulletin monumental 170 (2012), pp. 214-215 ( english summary).

His most distinguished sculpture is the group of , a work (first suggested by Duke ) now in the at , his attempt to surpass 's and 's . The casting of this work caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, but it was hailed as a as soon as it was completed. The original relief from the foot of the pedestal—Perseus and —is in the , and replaced by a cast.

By 1996, centuries of environmental exposure had streaked and banded the statue. In December 1996 it was removed from the and transferred to the for cleaning and restoration. It was a slow, years-long process, and the restored statue was not returned to its home until June 2000.

Decorative art and portraiture
Among his art works, many of which have perished, were a colossal for a fountain at and the bronzes of the doorway, coins for the Papal and Florentine states, a life-sized silver , and a bronze bust of . The works of decorative art are florid in style.

In addition to the bronze statue of and the medallions previously referred to, the works of art in existence today are a medallion of commemorating the peace between the Christian princes, 1530, with a bust of the pope on the reverse and a figure of Peace setting fire to a heap of arms in front of the temple of , signed with the artist's name; a signed portrait medal of Francis; a medal of Cardinal ; and the celebrated gold, enamel and ivory salt cellar (known as ) made for of France at . This intricate 26-cm-high sculpture, of a value conservatively estimated at 58,000,000 schilling, was commissioned by Francis I. Its principal figures are a naked sea god and a woman, sitting opposite each other with legs entwined, symbolically representing the planet . Saliera was stolen from the on 11 May 2003 by a thief who climbed scaffolding and smashed windows to enter the museum. The thief set off the alarms, but these were ignored as false, and the theft remained undiscovered until 8:20 AM. On 21 January 2006 the Saliera was recovered by the Austrian police and later returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum where it is now part of the display. Spectacular reopening of the Kunstkammer, One of the most important works by Cellini from late in his career was a life-size nude carved from . Although originally intended to be placed over his tomb, this crucifix was sold to the family who gave it to . Today the crucifix is in the near , where it has usually been displayed in an altered form — the monastery added a loincloth and a . For detailed information about this work, see the text by in the of this article. Cellini, while employed at the at during the papacy of and later of , created the dies of several coins and medals, some of which still survive at this now-defunct mint. He was also in the service of , first duke of , for whom he made in 1535 a forty-soldi piece with a bust of the duke on one side and standing figures of the Cosima and Damian on the other. Some connoisseurs attribute to his hand several plaques, "Jupiter crushing the Giants," "Fight between Perseus and ", a Dog, etc. Other works, such as the portrait bust shown, are not directly attributed but are instead attributed to his workshop.

Lost works
The important works which have perished include the uncompleted intended for ; a gold cover for a prayer book as a gift from to – both described at length in his autobiography; large silver statues of Jupiter, and Mars, wrought for during his sojourn in ; a bust of ; and a silver cup for the . The magnificent gold "button", or morse (a clasp for a cape), made by Cellini for the cape of , the competition for which is so graphically described in his autobiography, appears to have been sacrificed by , with many other priceless specimens of the 's art, in furnishing the 30,000,000 demanded by at the conclusion of the campaign against the in 1797. According to the terms of the treaty, the pope was permitted to pay a third of that sum in plate and jewels. In the print room of the are three drawings of this splendid morse by F. Bertoli, done at the insistence of an Englishman named Talman in the first half of the 18th century. The obverse and reverse, as well as the rim, are drawn full size, and moreover the morse with the precious stones set therein, including a diamond then considered the second-largest in the world, is fully described.

In literature and music

Autobiography and other writings
The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started in the year 1558 at the age of 58 and ended abruptly just before his last trip to around the year 1563 when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his singular career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions, and delights, written in an energetic, direct, and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. He even writes in a complacent way of how he contemplated his murders before carrying them out. He writes of his time in :
When certain decisions of the court were sent me by those lawyers, and I perceived that my cause had been unjustly lost, I had recourse for my defense to a great dagger I carried; for I have always taken pleasure in keeping fine weapons. The first man I attacked was a plaintiff who had sued me; and one evening I wounded him in the legs and arms so severely, taking care, however, not to kill him, that I deprived him of the use of both his legs. Then I sought out the other fellow who had brought the suit, and used him also such wise that he dropped it.
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Ch. XXVIII, as translated by John Addington Symonds, Dolphin Books edition, 1961

Parts of his tale recount some extraordinary events and phenomena; such as his stories of conjuring up a legion of devils in the , after one of his not innumerous mistresses had been spirited away from him by her mother; of the marvelous of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and twilight after his Roman imprisonment, and his supernatural visions and angelic protection during that adversity; and of his being poisoned on two separate occasions.

The autobiography has been translated into English by , by , by Robert H. H. Cust and (1910), and by . It has been considered and published as a classic, and commonly regarded as one of the most colorful autobiographies (certainly the most important autobiography from the ). Cellini also wrote treatises on the 's art, on sculpture, and on design.

In the works of others



Further reading
  • López Gajate, Juan. El Cristo Blanco de Cellini. San Lorenzo del Escorial: Escurialenses, 1995.
  • . Cellini. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985.
  • : Cellini. London, Sutton, 2004.
  • Angela Biancofiore, Benvenuto Cellini artiste-écrivain: l'homme à l'oeuvre, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1998

External links

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