The Life of Benvenuto Cellini/Introduction




CEL V01 D051 decorative character T.jpg HE translator of an autobiography, especially if it be a long one like Cellini's, or like Rousseau's Confessions, enjoys very special opportunities for becoming acquainted with the mind and temper of its writer. No other method of study, however conscientious, can be compared in this particular respect with the method of translation; in no other way is it possible to get such knowledge of a man's mental and emotional habits, to judge the value of his accent and intonation so accurately, or to form by gradual and subtle processes so sympathetic a conception of his nature. The translator is obliged to live for weeks and months in close companionship with his author. He must bend his own individuality to the task of expressing what is characteristic in that of another. He tastes and analyses every turn of phrase in order to discover its exact significance. He taxes the resources of his own language, so far as these may be at his command, to reproduce the most evasive no less than the most salient expressions of the text before him. In the case even of a poem or a dissertation, he ought, upon this method, to arrive at more precise conclusions than the student who has only been a reader. But when the text is a self-revelation, when it is a minute and voluminous autobiography, he will have done little short of living himself for awhile into the personality of another. Supposing him at the same time to be possessed of any discernment, he will be able afterwards to speak of the man whose spirit he has attempted to convey, with the authority of one who has learned to know him intus et in cute—bones, marrow, flesh, and superficies. Nor is the translator exposed to the biographer's weakness for overvaluing his subject. He pretends to no discoveries, has taken no brief for or against the character it is his duty to reproduce, has set up no full-length portrait on the literary easel, to be painted by the aid of documents, and with a certain preconceived conception of pictorial harmony. In so far as it is possible to enter into personal intercourse with any one whose voice we have not heard, whose physical influences we have not been affected by, in whose living presence we have not thought, and felt, and acted, in so far the translator of a book like Cellini's Memoirs or Rousseau's Confessions can claim to be familiar and intimate with its author.


I have recently put myself into these very confidential relations with Cellini, having made the completely new English version of his autobiography to which the following pages serve as introduction. I think that I am therefore justified in once more handling a somewhat hackneyed subject, and in rectifying what I have previously published concerning it.[1] A book which the great Goethe thought worthy of translating into German with the pen of Faust and Wilhelm Meister, a book which Auguste Comte placed upon his very limited list for the perusal of reformed humanity, is one with which we have the right to be occupied, not once or twice, but over and over again. It cannot lose its freshness. What attracted the encyclopædic minds of men so different as Comte and Goethe to its pages still remains there. This attractive or compulsive quality, to put the matter briefly, is the flesh and blood reality of Cellini's self-delineation. A man stands before us in his Memoirs unsophisticated, unembellished, with all his native faults upon him, and with all his potent energies portrayed in the veracious manner of Velasquez, with bold strokes and animated play of light and colour. No one was less introspective than this child of the Italian Renaissance. No one was less occupied with thoughts about thinking or with the presentation of psychological experience. Vain, ostentatious, self-laudatory, and self-engrossed as Cellini was, he never stopped to analyse himself. He attempted no artistic blending of Dichtung und Wahrheit; the word "confessions" could not have escaped his lips; a Journal Intime would have been incomprehensible to his fierce, virile spirit. His autobiography is the record of acfion and passion. Suffering, enjoying, enduring, working with restless activity; hating, loving, hovering from place to place as impulse moves him; the man presents himself dramatically by his deeds and spoken words, never by his ponderings or meditative broodings. It is this healthy externality which gives its great charm to Cellini's self-portrayal and renders it an imperishable document for the student of human nature. In addition to these solid merits, his life, as Horace Walpole put it, is "more amusing than any novel."

We have a real man to deal with—a man so realistically brought before us that we seem to hear him speak and see him move; a man, moreover, whose eminently characteristic works of art in a great measure still survive among us. Yet the adventures of this potent human actuality will bear comparison with those of Gil Bias, or the Comte de Monte Cristo, or Quentin Durward, or Les Trois Mousquetaires, for their variety and ever-pungent interest. In point of language, again, Cellini possesses an advantage which places him at least upon the level of the most adroit romance-writers. Unspoiled by literary training, he wrote precisely as he talked, with all the sharp wit of a born Florentine, heedless of grammatical construction, indifferent to rhetorical effects, attaining unsurpassable vividness of narration by pure simplicity. He was greatly helped in gaining the peculiar success he has achieved by two circumstances; first, that he dictated nearly the whole of his Memoirs to a young amanuensis; secondly, that the distinguished academical writer to whose correction he submitted them refused to spoil their ingenuous grace by alterations or stylistic improvements. While reading his work, therefore, we enjoy something of that pleasure which draws the folk of Eastern lands to listen to the recitation of Arabian Nights' entertainments.


But what was the man himself? It is just this question which I have half promised to answer, implying that, as a translator, I have some special right to speak upon the topic.

Well, then: I seem to know Cellini first of all as a man possessed by intense, absorbing egotism; violent, arrogant, self-assertive, passionate; conscious of great gifts for art, physical courage, and personal address. Without having read a line of Machiavelli, he had formed the same ideal of virtù or manly force of character as the author of The Prince. To be selfreliant in all circumstances; to scheme and strike, if need be, in support of his opinion or his right; to take the law into his own hands for the redress of injury or insult: this appeared to him the simple duty of an honourable man. But he had nothing of the philosopher's calm, the diplomatist's prudence, the general's strategy, or the courtier's self-restraint. On the contrary, he possessed the temperament of a born artist, blent in almost equal proportions with that of a born bravo. Throughout the whole of his tumultuous career these two strains contended in his nature for mastery. Upon the verge of fifty-six, when a man's blood has generally cooled, we find that he was released from prison on bail, and bound over to keep the peace for a year with some enemy whose life was probably in danger; and when I come to speak about his homicides, it will be obvious that he enjoyed killing live men quite as much as casting bronze statues.


Both the artist and the bravo were characteristic and typical products of the Italian Renaissance. The genius of the race expressed itself at that epoch even more saliently in the fine arts than in scholarship or literature. At the same time the conditions of society during what I have elsewhere called "the Age of the Despots" favoured the growth of lawless adventurers, who made a practice of violence and lived by murder. Now these two prominent types of the nation and the period were never more singularly combined than in Cellini. He might stand as a full-blown specimen of either. Sensitive, impulsive, rash of speech, hasty in action, with the artist's susceptibility and the bravo's heat of blood, he injured no one more than himself by his eccentricities of temper. Over and over again did he ruin excellent prospects by some piece of madcap folly. Yet there is no trace in any of his writings that he ever laid his misadventures to the proper cause. He consistently poses as an injured man, whom malevolent scoundrels and malignant stars conspired to persecute. Nor does he do this with any bad faith. His belief in himself remained as firm as adamant, and he candidly conceived that he was under the special providence of a merciful and loving God, who appreciated his high and virtuous qualities. On one occasion, after a more than customary outbreak of violent speech, the Lucchese ambassador remarked to his patron, Cosimo de' Medici, "That Benvenuto of yours is a terrible man!" "Yes," answered the Duke, "he is far more terrible than you imagine. Well were it for him if he were a little less so, for then he would have possessed much which he now lacks."[2] Cellini reports this speech with satisfaction; he is proud to be called terrible—a word which then denoted formidable vehemence.[3] On another occasion he tells us how Pope Paul III. was willing to pardon him for an outrageous murder committed in the streets of Rome. One of the Pope's gentlemen submitted that this was showing unseasonable clemency. "You do not understand the matter as well as I do," replied his Holiness. "I must inform you that men like Benvenuto, unique in their profession, are not bound by the laws."[4] That sentence precisely paints Cellini's own conception of himself; and I believe that something to the like effect may really have been spoken by Pope Paul. Certainly our artist's frequent homicides and acts of violence were condoned by great princes, who wished to avail themselves of his exceptional ability. Italian society admired the bravo almost as much as Imperial Rome admired the gladiator; it also assumed that genius combined with force of character released men from the shackles of ordinary morality. These points are so clear to any student of the sixteenth century that I need not here enlarge upon them. It is only necessary to keep them steadily in mind while forming an estimate of Cellini's temperament and conduct; at the same time we must not run to the conclusion that people of his stamp were common, even at that time, in Italy. We perceive plainly from his self-complacent admissions that the peculiar hybrid between the gifted artist and the man of blood which he exhibited was regarded as something not quite normal.


Such being the groundwork of Cellini's nature, it follows as a necessary consequence that his self-conceit was prodigious. Each circumstance of his life appeared to him a miracle. Great though his talents were, he vastly overrated them, and set a monstrously exaggerated value on his works of art. The same qualities made him a fierce and bitter rival: he could not believe that any one with whom he came into collision had the right to stand beside him. This did not prevent him from being a clear-sighted and impartial critic. His admiration for Michel Angelo Buonarroti amounted to fanaticism. He properly appreciated Raphael, and gave the just amount of praise to Sansovino,Primaticcio, and Rosso—three artists with whom he was not on the best of terms. Nor will any one deny that his unfavourable estimates of Bandinelli and Ammanati were justified. Indeed, contemporaries acknowledged the wholesomeness of his sound, outspoken criticism. When Vasari's abominable frescoes on the cupola of the Florentine cathedral were exposed to view, the witty Lasca wrote as follows:

"Pur fra color, che son di vita privi,
Vivo vorrei Benvenuto Cellini,
Che senza alcun ritegno o barbezzale
Delle cose malfatte dicea male,
E la cupola al mondo singolare
Non si potea di lodar mai saziare;
E la so lea chiamare,
Alzandola alle stelle,
La maraviglia delle cose belle;
Certo non capirebbe or nella pelle,
In tal guisa dipintala veggendo;
E saltando e correndo e fulminando,
S' andrebbe querelando,
E per tutto gridando ad alia voce,
Giorgin d' Arezzo metterebbe in croce"[5]


In spite of his vehemence and passion, Cellini had not depth or tenacity of feeling. His amours were numerous, but volatile and indiscriminate. As a friend he seems to have been somewhat uncertain; not treacherous, but wayward. Hospitable indeed and generous he proved himself by his conduct toward Italians in Paris, and by his thoroughgoing kindness for the Sputasenni family in Florence. Still, if anything, either in love or comradeship, crossed his humour, he sacrificed emotion to vanity. Like many egotistical people, he extended the affection he felt for himself to the members of his immediate family. On the whole, he was a good and dutiful son, although he caused his poor old father great uneasiness by running away from home, because one of his sisters had given his new suit of clothes to his only brother. For this brother, a brave soldier of the same stormy sort as Benvenuto, he entertained at the same time, and always, a really passionate love. The young man, named Cecchino, assassinated ceonstable in the streets of Rome, and was wounded in the squabble which ensued. He died of the wound; but though the officer who fired his arquebuse had done this only in self-defence, Benvenuto tracked him down one night and murdered him. Not a syllable of remorse escapes his lips. Men like himself and Cecchino had the right to slay; and if their opponents managed to checkmate such virtuous fellows, they must be punished. The best recorded actions of Cellini concern his conduct toward a sister and six daughters, for whose sake he quitted a splendid situation in France, and whom he supported by his industry at Florence; yet he does not boast about this sustained and unselfish exercise of domestic piety. He was, finally, much attached to his legitimate children, though almost brutally indifferent about a natural daughter whom he left behind in Paris.


The religious feelings of this singular personage deserve to be considered. They were indisputably sincere, and I have no doubt that Cellini turned, as he asserts, in all his difficulties with hearty faith to God. But, like the majority of Italians in his age, he kept religion as far apart from morality as can be. His God was not the God of holiness, chastity, and mercy, but the fetish who protected him and understood him better than ungrateful men. He was emphatically, moreover, the God who "aids such folk as aid themselves"—a phrase frequently used in these Memoirs. The long and painful imprisonment which Cellini endured without just cause in the Castle of S. Angelo made a deep and, to some extent, a permanent impression on his mind. He read the Bible and composed psalms, was visited by angels and blessed with consolatory visions. About the truth of these experiences there is no doubt. The man's impressible, imaginative nature lent itself to mysticism and spiritual exaltation no less readily than to the delirium of homicidal excitement. He was just as inclined to see heaven opened when dying of misery in a dungeon as to "see red," if I may use that French term, when he met an enemy upon the burning squares of Rome in summer. The only difference was, that in the former case he posed before himself as a martyr gifted with God's special favour, in the latter as a righteous and wronged hero, whose hand and dagger God would guide. There was nothing strange in this mixture of piety and murder. The assassin of Lorenzino de' Medici—whose short narrative, by the way, reads like a chapter of Cellini's Memoirs—relates how, while he was running drenched with blood through Venice after the event, he took refuge in a crowded church, and fervently commended himself to the Divine protection. Homicide, indeed, was then considered a venial error, and several incidents might be cited from this autobiography proving that men devoted to the religious life screened murderers red-handed after the commission of what we should regard not merely as criminal, but also as dastardly deeds of violence.


Among Cellini's faults I do not reckon either baseness or lying. He was not a rogue, and he meant to be veracious. This contradicts the commonplace and superficial view of his character so flatly that I must support my opinion at some length. Of course, I shall not deny that a fellow endowed with such overweening self-conceit, when he comes to write about himself, will set down much which cannot be taken entirely on trust. His personal annals will never rank as historical material with the Venetian Despatches, however invaluable the student of manners may find them. Men of his stamp are certain to exaggerate their own merits, and to pass lightly over things not favourable to the ideal they present. But this is very different from lying; and of calculated mendacity Cellini stands almost universally accused. I believe that view to be mistaken. So far as I have learned to know him, so far as I have caught his accent and the intonation of his utterance, I hold him for a most veracious man. His veracity was not of the sort which is at present current. It had no hypocrisy or simulation in it, but a large dose of vainglory with respect to his achievements, and a trifle of suppression with respect to matters which he thought unworthy of his fame. Otherwise, he is quite transparent after his own fashion—the fashion, that is to say, of the sixteenth century, when swaggering and lawlessness were in vogue, which must be distinguished from the fashion of the nineteenth century, when modesty and order are respectable.


What I have called the accent and the intonation of Cellini strikes genuinely upon my ear in the opening sentences of a letter to Benedetto Varchi. It should be premised that this distinguished historian, poet, and critic was an intimate friend of the great artist, who sent him his autobiography in MS. to read. "It gives me pleasure to hear from your worship," writes Cellini, "that you like the simple narrative of my life in its present rude condition better than if it were filed and retouched by the hand of others, in which case the exact accuracy with which I have set all things down might not be so apparent as it is. In truth, I have been careful to relate nothing whereof I had a doubtful memory, and have confined myself to the strictest truth, omitting numbers of extraordinary incidents out of which another writer would have made great capital." In a second letter to Varchi he declares himself as "bad at dictating, and worse at composing," He clearly thought that his imperfect grammar and plebeian style were more than compensated by the sincerity and veracity of his narration.


His own attitude with regard to truth can well be studied in the somewhat comic episode of the Duchess of Tuscany's pearls.[6] She was anxious to coax her husband into buying some pearls for her, and entreated Cellini to tell a fib or two in their favour for her sake. "Now," says Cellini, "I have always been the devoted friend of truth and the enemy of lies; yet I undertook the office, much against my will, for fear of losing the good graces of so great a princess." Accordingly, he went with "those confounded pearl" to the Duke, and having once begun to lie, exaggerated his falsehoods so clumsily that he raised suspicion. The Duke at last begged him, as he was an honest man, to say what he really thought. This appeal upset him: "I blushed up to the eyes, which filled with tears;" and on the instant he made a clean breast of the whole matter, losing thereby the favour of the Duchess, who had been shown in an unpleasing light to her lord and master. The minute accounts he has left of all his negotiations for the payment of the Perseus prove in like manner that the one thing Cellini could not do was to gain his ends by artifice and underhand transactions. On the contrary, he blurted out the bitter truth, as he conceived it, in hot blood, and clamoured with egregious presumption for what his vanity demanded. Not lying, not artfulness, but arrogance and overweening self-importance are the vices of his character.


His portrait is drawn in this light by contemporaries. Vasari describes him as "in all his doings of high spirit, proud, lively, very quick to act, and formidably vehement; a person who knew only too well how to speak his mind to princes." Bembo, Caro, Martelli, Varchi, speak of him always in terms which would be quite inapplicable to a rogue or a liar. During his imprisonment in S. Angelo, Annibale Caro, who had known him well for several years, wrote thus to his friend Luca Martini: "I have still some hope for Benvenuto, unless his own temper should do him mischief, for that is certainly extravagant. Since he was in prison, he has never been able to refrain from saying things in his odd way, which, in my opinion, makes the Prince (Pier Luigi Farnese) uneasy as to what he may do or utter in the future. These follies, far more than any crime he has committed in the past, now compromise his safety." That passage strongly corroborates the view I have presented of Cellini's character. I might quote another letter written by Niccolo Martelli to Benvenuto in France. It begins by paying a tribute to his "distinguished talents and gracious nature," saying that any favours he may receive at the French court will not be equal to his merits, "both as a rare goldsmith and admirable draughtsman, and also as a man of liberal and open conversation with his fellows, freehanded not only to artists and friends, but also to all who seek him out; esteeming mighty cardinals no more than noble spirits in a humble station, which is really worthy of a nature so generous as yours/' These phrases might pass for merely complimentary, did they not so exactly confirm Cellini's own narrative. They give us good reason to believe that what he spoke about himself was the truth.


In the next place I will adduce the opinions of two Italian critics who have been occupied with Cellini's autobiography. Antonio Cocchi, its first editor (Naples, 1730), says in his preface: "I will not conceal my belief that there are some things scattered through his narrative in blame of contemporaries to which we ought to lend a somewhat doubting ear. It is not that the author was not an impassioned friend of truth, but he may have accepted vague reports or yielded to conjectures." This admission is too cautious. It is certain that Cellini wrote his Memoirs in no critical spirit; and what Cocchi calls "his habit of excessive frankness, his harsh manners, readiness to take affront, and implacable hatreds," betrayed him into great unfairness when dealing with people whom he disliked. This does not, however, imply of necessity that he fabricated falsehoods against the folk he could not tolerate. Truth is ever a more trenchant weapon than mendacity in most cases. When Aretino, that unscrupulous gladiator of the pen, was asked how men might best speak evil of their neighbours, he replied: "By telling the truth—by telling the truth." And Cellini understood with keen sagacity this force of plain unvarnished statement. I take it that the most disagreeable things he said of Paul III., of Luigi Pulci, of Baccio Bandinelli, and of Giorgio Vasari were crude verities. The manners of the period and his method of narration justify this conclusion.

Taking a wider sweep and survey of this subject, Baretti sums up the impression left upon his mind by Cellini's self-portraiture thus: "He has painted himself as brave as a French grenadier, as vindictive as a viper, superstitious to the last degree, full of eccentricity and caprice; a pleasant companion among friends, but not susceptible of affectionate attachments; rather loose in sexual relations, a bit of a traitor without being aware of it; slightly tainted with spite and envy, a braggart and vain without suspecting himself to be such; a madcap who firmly believed he was wise, circumspect, and prudent. Fully persuaded that he was a hero, he dashed this picture of himself upon the canvas without a thought of composition or reflection, just as his fiery and rapid fancy prompted. We derive from it something of the same pleasure which we feel in contemplating a terrible wild beast who cannot get near enough to hurt us."


After these general considerations upon the limits within which Cellini's veracity may be trusted, I pass to some particulars that have been always challenged in his statements.

Upon the very first pages of the book we are met with an astounding legend relating to the foundation and the name of Florence. Having shown familiarity with previous speculations on the subject, he rejects all other hypotheses in favour of a pure myth, by which the origin of the city is referred to an imaginary ancestor of his own, Fiorino da Cellino, a captain in the army of Julius Caesar. It is needless to say that there is no ground whatever for the legend; and we can hardly believe that Cellini thought it would impose on any one's credulity. That it flattered his own vanity is certain; and I suspect from his way of introducing it that the story formed part of some domestic gossip regarding his ancestry which he had heard in boyhood. Many of the so-called Norman pedigrees of our aristocracy used to begin with fables hardly less ridiculous. To call this one of Cellini's lies would be as absurd as to deny that it confirms our belief in his childish self-conceit and uncritical habit of mind.

A more important piece of boasting is usually cast in his teeth. He tells us how he went, upon the 6th of May 1527, to the ramparts of Rome at the moment when the assault of the Imperial troops was being hotly pressed, and how he slew a captain with a well-directed musket-shot. This captain, as he afterwards learned, was the Constable of Bourbon. Now there is nothing to prove whether he did or did not shoot the Constable. He only mentions the fact himself on hearsay, and when he enumerated his past services before the judges who sent him to prison in 1538 he did not mention this feat.[7] That he wounded the Prince of Orange by the discharge of a culverin from the Castle of S. Angelo has never been disputed. Indeed, it is quite certain that he performed more than yeoman's duty as a gunner all through the period of the sack of Rome. In consequence of his excellent soldiership, Orazio Baglioni offered him the captaincy of a band in the army he was collecting for the defence of Florence. Now Bourbon had been shot dead in the assault of Rome upon that foggy morning, and Cellini had certainly discharged his arquebuse from the ramparts. Always posing as a hero in his own eyes, he was gratified to obtain some colour for the supposition that one of his unerring balls had done the deed. If it were possible to put his thoughts about this event into a syllogism, it would run as follows: "Somebody shot Bourbon; I shot somebody; being what I am, I am inclined to think the somebody I shot was Bourbon."

Many of the odd things related by Cellini can be classified as things which really took place, like the accident of the scorpion and the tremendous hailstorm he encountered in the neighbourhood of Lyons. Others may be referred to common superstition. I will choose the instance of the salamander, which has often been brought up against him. Here he only informs us that his father gave him a good box on the ears, in order that he might not forget the occasion when he saw something in a wood-fire which his father took for a salamander. Not a few of the most striking of his presumed lies turn out, upon inspection, like those of Herodotus, to be simply the best evidence of his veracity. That is to say, when we examine them we find that he had been recording actual phenomena with more than usual powers of observation, but without the power of scientifically accounting for them. Being vividly conscious of the fact as he observed it, and at the same time subject to a wrong method of interpretation, he unconsciously proved his veracity by accurately describing what he saw, and then referring it to such causes as were current at his epoch. I will select two examples bearing on this point; both shall be recorded in his own words.

The first relates to a portent in the heavens, which he regarded as a sign sent for some fateful warning. After relating how he and his friend Felice had been shooting all day on the Roman Campagna, he proceeds as follows:[8] "We mounted and rode rapidly towards Rome; and when we reached a certain gently rising ground—night then had fallen—looking in the direction of Florence, both with one breath exclaimed in the utmost astonishment, 'Oh, God of heaven! what is that great thing one sees there over Florence?' It resembled a huge beam of fire, which sparkled and gave out extraordinary lustre. I said to Felice." Assuredly we shall hear to-morrow that something of vast importance has happened in Florence.'" In effect, they did hear that Alessandro de' Medici had been murdered by his cousin Lorenzino. Yet, meanwhile, Cellini has left a striking, though brief, picture of the aurora borealis which he happened to have noticed.

The second of these examples is more curious and far more confirmatory of his truth. After those half-delirious experiences in the dungeon of S. Angelo, when he saw visions and thought that angels administered to his sick body, he fancied himself under God's special guidance. As a sign of this peculiar grace, he relates the following circumstance:[9] "Since that time till now an aureole of glory (marvellous to relate) has rested on my head. This is visible to every sort of men to whom I have chosen to point it out; but these have been very few. This halo can be observed above my shadow in the morning, from the rising of the sun for about two hours, and far better when the grass is drenched with dew. It is also visible at evening about sunset. I became aware of it in France, at Paris; for the air in those countries is so much freer from mist that one can see it there far better manifested than in Italy, mists being far more frequent among us. However, I am always able to see it, and to show it to others, but not so well as in the country I have mentioned." Critics have taken for granted that this is a mere piece of audacious mendacity meant to glorify himself, whereas it is really the record of a very accurate but misinterpreted observation. Any one who walks abroad in grassy places when the light is low, as at sunrise or at sunset, can satisfy himself that his shadow cast on dewy sward is surrounded with a rim of glory like a lunar rainbow. But if he goes with companions, he will not see their shadows encircled with the same light, because his own body is the point which focusses the diffused rays.[10] He, therefore, might well imagine that the aureole is given to himself alone; and, in order to exhibit it, he must make his comrade take a place behind him, where the halo becomes at once visible to both. Long before I attended to the above passage in Cellini, I noticed this phenomenon, and pointed it out to friends, finding that some of them were too deficient in powers of observation to perceive it, while others at once recognised the singular and beautiful effect. What makes the example interesting for the light it casts on Cellini's habit of mind is that he starts by saying the aureole surrounds his head, and then very ingenuously proceeds to tell us that it only surrounds the shadow of his head at certain times and in certain places. Those times and places are just what the experience of one who has observed the same phenomena would lead him to expect. Again, he sets

up a false theory to explain why he could see it better in France than in Italy. It is not that there is more mist in the latter than the former country, but that low-lying humidity of atmosphere and heavy dews on deep grass are favourable to the production of the appearance, and these conditions may be met with more frequently in a country like France than in the provinces of Middle Italy. It was upon the Alpine meadows, where I am now writing, at the season of early autumn frosts, that I first noticed it; and I can predict with some confidence when it is pretty certain to be reproduced. In my opinion, the very hesitancies of Cellini in this test-passage are undesigned corroborations of his general veracity. A man who deliberately invents something to glorify himself and mystify the world does not go about his work in this fashion. He does not describe a natural phenomenon so exactly that all the limiting conditions, which he regarded as inexplicable imperfections in the grace conferred upon him, shall confirm the truth of his observation.

A similar line of reasoning might be adopted with regard to the extraordinary night-scene in the Coliseum. Cellini went thither, firmly believing in ghosts and fiends, in order to raise devils, with a necromancer. A bonfire was lighted and drugs were cast upon the coals, which rolled forth volumes of murky smoke. In the smoke legions of demons appeared. Imagination and the awe-inspiring influences of the place, even if we eliminate a possible magic-lantern among the conjuror's appurtenances, are enough to account for what Cellini saw. He was credulous, he was superstitous; he was readily exalted to the fever-point of delirium (as in the case of Charon, who obsessed him during his Roman illness, the visions of S. Angelo when his leg was broken, and the apparition of the gravedigger during his short fever at night of casting Perseus); but there is nothing in his confidences to make us suppose that the phantasmagoria of the Coliseum was a deliberate invention.


The most convincing proofs of Cellini's trustworthiness are not, however, to be sought in these minor details. I find the far stronger and far more abundant in the vast picture-gallery of historical portraits which he has painted. Parini, while tracing the salient qualities of his autobiography, remarked: "He is particularly admirable in depicting to the life by a few salient touches the characters, passions, personal peculiarities, movements, and habits of the people with he came into contact.

Only one who has made himself for long years familiar with Cellini's period can appreciate the extraordinary vividness and truth of Cellini's delineation. Without attempting to do more than record his collection of what happened to himself in commerce with men of all sorts, he has dramatised the great folk histories, chronicles and diplomatic despatches exactly as our best authorities in their more colourless and cautious style present them to our fancy. He enjoyed the advantages of the alcove and the ante-chamber; and without abusing these in the spirit of a Voltaire or a valet, he has gravely
CEL V01 D075 bust of cosimo de medici.jpg
bust of cosimo de medici
( florence )

added to our conception of Clement VII, Paul III., Francis I., and Cosimo de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Clement driven to his wits' end for cash during the sack of Rome; Paul granting favours to a cardinal at the end of a copious repast, when wine was in his head; Francis interrupting the goldsmiths in their workshop at the Petit Nesle; Cosimo indulging in horse-play with his buffoon Bernardone—these detach themselves, as living personages, against the grey historic background. Yet the same great people, on more ceremonious occasions, or in the common transactions of life, talk, move, and act precisely as we learn to know them from the most approved documentary sources. Take, for example, the singular interview between Paul III. and the Marquis del Vasto, which Cellini interrupted, and when he was used by the former to exhaust the patience of the Spanish envoy.[11] Our authorities tell us much about the fox-like shifty nature of the Pope; and we know that, precisely at this moment, he was eager to preserve his own neutrality between the courts of France and Spain. Cellini, thinking only of his personal affairs, withdraws the curtain from a scene which we feel at once to be the very truth and inner life of history.

It was not only in dealing with the greatest actors on the world's stage that Cellini showed this keen fidelity to fact. His portraits of the bestial Pier Luigi Farnese, of the subtle and bizarre Lorenzino de' Medici, of the Ferrarese minister Giliolo, of the Florentine majordomo Ricci, of the proud Comte de St. Paul, correspond exactly to what we learn otherwise about them, adding slight significant touches from private information. Madame D'Etampes and the Duchess Eleanora of Tuscany move across his pages as they lived, the one with the vivacity of a king's insolent mistress, the other with the somewhat sickly and yet kindly grandeur of the Spanish consort to an astute Italian prince. Lesser folk, with whom we are equally acquainted through their writings or biographical notices, appear in crowds upon a lower plane. Bembo, in his dignified retreat at Padua; Torrigiano, swaggering about the Florentine workshops; Giulio Romano, leading the debauched society of Roman artists; Maitre Roux, in his Parisian magnificence; Alamanni, the humane and gentle nobleman of letters; Sansovino, expanding at ease in Venetian comfort; old Michel Angelo, with his man Urbino, in their simple Roman dwelling; Bandinelli, blustering before the Duke of Florence in a wordy duel with Cellini, which Vasari also has reported—all these, and how many more besides, are portrayed with an evident reality, which corresponds in each particular to the man as he is otherwise revealed to us by independent evidence. Yet Cellini had no intention of describing such folk for our benefit. As they happened to cross his life, so he sketched them with sharp, pungent quill-strokes, always thinking more about his own affairs than their personality. Nothing inspires a firmer confidence in his accuracy as an observer and his veracity as a narrator than the undesigned corroboration given to his portraits by masses of external and less vivid testimony. This forces me to accept as genuine many of those powerful and humorous descriptions of character which we cannot check. How true to life is the history of young Luigi Pulci, who came to grief in Rome, after wasting exceptional talents in disgraceful self-indulgence! That episode reads like a pièce justificative in illustration of Aretino's Dialogo delle Corti. The story too of the mad Castellan of S. Angelo, who thought he was a bat, deserves like credence. The ruffianly postmaster at Siena, shot dead by Cellini in a quarrel; the Milanese simpleton who entreated the surgeon, while sewing up a wound in his mouth, not to close the whole orifice but of spite; the incomparable dilettante at Ferrara, Alfonso de' Trotti, who made such a fool of himself about some old models from Cellini's vases; Tribolo, the quaking coward; Busbacca, the lying courier; Cellini's father, with his fixed idea about Benvenuto's flute-playing; Ascanio and his sweetheart hidden in the head of the great statue of Mars at Paris—hundreds of such rapidly traced silhouettes, with all the force of life and all the comicality of satiric genius, cross these pages and enliven them at every turn. We have faith in their veracity, partly because they correspond to human nature in the times which Cellini knew, and partly because his descriptions of character, when verified by external evidence, are found so faithful.


The trustworthiness of Cellini's Memoirs might be submitted to yet another test. Numerous details, as, for instance, the episode of his brother's death and what he says about Foiano's starvation in S. Angelo, are supported by Varchi's History of Florence. His own private memoranda and official petitions to the Duke of Florence confirm the main records of his life in that city. The French letters of naturalisation and the deed conferring on him the lordship of Le Petit Nesle are in existence. Signor Bertolotti's and the Marchese Campori's researches have established the accuracy of his narrative regarding his life in Rome and his relations to the Cardinal of Ferrara.[12] But it would occupy too much space to pursue this line of investigation with the scrupulous thoroughness, without which such arguments are unconvincing. Enough has perhaps been said in this place upon the topic of the man's veracity. What I have attempted to demonstrate is, that he did not mean to lie, and that we possess strong confirmatory testimony to the truth of his statements and the accuracy of his observation. This does not imply that a man of his violent passions and egregious vanity is always to be trusted, either when he praises his own performance or depreciates his sworn foes.


A different class of problems have to be faced when we seek to estimate how far Cellini can be justly called either a rogue or a villain. I have admitted in my general review of his character that he was capable of suppressing portions of the truth respecting matters which involved his own ideal of a manly reputation; although I am inclined to trust his narrative on all points openly related. Now there are two important passages in his life which might be challenged as imperfectly explained by him, and which are therefore ex hypothesi suspicious. The first of these is the long imprisonment in S. Angelo at Rome; the second is his final departure from France.

The account which Cellini gives of the former episode is that he had been calumniated to Pope Paul III., and had furthermore incurred the hatred of Pier Luigi Farnese.[13] At the same time he states that his first examination before judges turned upon a charge of having stolen crown jewels amounting to eighty thousand ducats, while employed to melt their settings down for Clement VII.[14] It seems that a Perugian workman in Cellini's employ informed against him; and Pier Luigi obtained from his Papal father a grant of this value when it should be recovered. Cellini successfully disposed of the accusation by appealing to the books of the Apostolic Camera, upon which all the articles belonging to the regalia were duly inscribed. He also asked what he could have done with so large a sum as eighty thousand ducats.[15] Upon this point it is worth noticing that when Cellini made his nuncupatory will some months previous to this imprisonment, he possessed nothing at all approaching to the amount of eighty thousand ducats.[16] Also, he relates how he confessed, during the lifetime of Pope Clement, to having kept back a small quantity of gold-filings in the Castle of S. Angelo, for which act he received plenary Papal absolution.[17] It seems therefore certain that Cellini cleared himself before the judges of this charge of peculation; and nothing more was subsequently said about it.

Yet there remains some difficulty in understanding why he was kept so long in prison after the voracious Pier Luigi found that no articles of value could be extracted from him. Are we to believe that Paul III. remained obdurate in his resentment merely because some courtiers told him that Cellini had been laughing at the Pope behind his back? That is by no means either impossible or improbable, knowing as we do what acts of tyranny a Pope was capable of perpetrating. Varchi, for example, writing his History of Florence under Medicean influence for a Medicean Grand Duke, relates how the last great Medicean Pope, Clement VII., caused a political antagonist, Fra Foiano, to be starved in the Castle of S. Angelo by daily reducing his rations till the wretch expired of vermin and famine. Now Alessandro Farnese, Pope Paul III., was in some ways worse and more dangerous than any of those previous Pontiffs. He owed his first advancement to his sister's shame; for Giulia la Beila had been the mistress of Pope Alexander VI. During his early manhood he underwent imprisonment in the Castle of S. Angelo for forgery while holding public offices of trust. He was, in fact, a survivor from the most worldly and most lawless days of the Roman Church. But when he obtained the tiara public opinion had begun to undergo a change. Paul III. could not play the part of a Delia Rovere or Borgia openly before the world. His hands, in the new age dawning over Europe, were tied; the natural movements of his youthful years were checked; the quality he chiefly cultivated was craft. That did not, however, prevent him from being stiff-necked and tyrannical when he could indulge his humour. His bastard, Pier Luigi, Duke of Parma, who was eventually murdered by his outraged subjects, is acknowledged to have been a low rascal of infamous habits. A pair of such people were quite capable of keeping Cellini in prison out of spite and obstinacy. Moreover, we have already learned from Caro's correspondence that well-informed persons in Rome ascribed his prolonged detention to the incorrigible violence of his language

rather than to any past offences. With regard to Cellini's final removal from France, a good deal might be said. He informs us that domestic circumstances obliged him to revisit his native town of Florence. His only sister was married to an aged husband with failing health, who earned nothing for the family. This couple had six daughters, and Cellini not unreasonably feared that the girls might fall into bad ways unless they were provided for.[18] With characteristic recklessness he left the land of his adoption before he had properly squared accounts with King Francis. On the journey from Paris to Lyons something happened which might raise suspicion. Messengers followed our artist, and obliged him to give up three pieces of silver plate and some bullion on the King's account. Cellini asserts that he intended to deposit these valuables at Lyons in an abbey of his old patron the Cardinal of Ferrara, before he left the country. He argues with much show of reason that it would have been impossible to convey a whole mule-load of precious metal out of France under the then strict laws regarding exportation. There were further circumstances connected with the King's health at that period which made him unwilling to abandon so much property in Paris under the charge of two Italian workmen. Francis, in the year 1545, was already sinking into premature decrepitude, and his life could not be reckoned on. Cellini's story is therefore plausible and intelligible enough. We know, besides, that he subsequently lost all the effects which he left behind at Paris; nor have we any reason to doubt that Francis was satisfied with the lengthy statement which he transmitted from Florence.[19] Yet the narrative of his departure has exposed him to a charge of peculation or of seriously involved accounts in his transactions with the King. I am not aware that sinister light has been thrown upon this matter from French archives. On the contrary, we know that Francis, who sincerely liked him, wanted Cellini to return. What is more, we possess a letter written by Duke Cosimo to Caterina de' Medici in 1547, the year of her husband's accession to the French throne, recommending Benvenuto to his royal cousin, and expressly setting forth the reasons why the artist had left Paris.[20] "He came back to this country," says the Grand Duke, "in order that his nieces might benefit by his talents and assistance; and I am no less pleased by this mark of dutiful regard for his family than by the beauty of his works." For some reason or another, Cellini does not appear to have used this letter. Still, twelve years afterwards, the Queen of France again required his services. Henri II. died in 1559, and in 1562 his widow had not yet erected her husband's monument. At the latter date her envoy to Florence, Baccio del Bene, invited Cellini to complete the work, which had been begun by Daniele da Volterra.[21] Whether he did not care to go, being old and having recently married, or whether, as he says, the Duke refused him leave, cannot be decided. It is only certain that he never returned to France. These two episodes are, it seems to me, the two most dubious passages in Cellini's life—those, I mean, upon which a charge of roguery might most plausibly be founded. In the matter of the Pope's jewels he stands acquitted; but scrupulous critics may still perhaps trace a mystery in the circumstances which attended his quitting the service of King Francis. It is hardly necessary here to refer to a sentence passed on him in 1 548 for selling garnets under the pretence that they were rubies.[22] The facts are not sufficiently established.


After roguery we come now to the question of villainy and violence. When Benvenuto was first captured by the Roman authorities, they tried, as I have already shown, to convict him on a charge of stealing court jewels. In the course of his interrogation, "that catchpoll of a governor" said to him: "And yet you have murdered several men!"[23] This had nothing to do with the prisoner's accusation; but it had, perhaps, something to do with the attitude of his judges; and so, I imagine, has it a great deal to do with the opinion people of the present day will form of him. It is certain that Cellini himself was not wholly indifferent to his homicides; for when he thought his throat was going to be cut in Torre di Nona, the memory of them weighed upon his conscience.[24] At that moment he had assassinated two men in Rome upon the open streets, namely, the constable who caused his brother's death, and a goldsmith called Pompeo. He had thrice risked the commission of wholesale slaughter, once in Florence, once in Rome, and thirdly at Ferrara; but these quarrels resulted in no bloodshed. It does not appear that he had killed anybody else, although he severely wounded a man named Ser Benedetto in a sudden fit of rage.[25]

So far, then, according to his own admission, Cellini had only two clear murders on his mind in 1538. Possibly he forgot a few of less importance, for his memory was not always trustworthy about trifles. For instance, when he baptized an illegitimate daughter at Paris in 1543, he calmly remarked: "This was the first child I ever had, so far as I remember."[26] Afterwards, he made up to some extent for any previous omissions; for he informs us with circumstantial details how he killed the postmaster at Siena, and how he disabled two of his enemies at Paris, carving them about the legs and arms with his sword, in order to avoid a homicide and display his skill at fence. [27]

Bloodshed, accordingly, played a prominent part in Benvenuto's life experiences; and those who are best acquainted with him know that it was hardly his fault if this feature is not more prominent in their records. Paolo Micceri and Baccio Bandinelli, for example, owed their narrow escape from assassination less to his forbearance than to their own want of pluck.[28] At this point, then, it is necessary to advance some arguments in his defence. In the first place, it will be noticed that he speaks with pride and imperturbability about these murderous exploits. Whatever ceremony of phrase he used in describing his departure from Paris, there is nothing of this sort when he comes to relate the details of a homicide. All is candid and above board upon these occasions, except when he exhibits a slight sense of shame at being obliged to waylay his brother's slayer. [29] The causes of this good conscience are not far to seek. I have already stated that murder at that epoch passed for a merely venial error. It was then esteemed the duty of a vigorous human being to assert his honour by taking the lives of men who had insulted or wronged him in his own judgment, or the lives of sisters and wives who had disgraced his family. The universal records of the age support this statement; and long after Cellini's death theological casuists defended homicide on both these counts, arguing that honour was a man's life, and that an assault upon his honour was equivalent to an assault with violence upon his person. They justified murder when the member of a religious order vindicated its reputation. They justified infanticide when a girl sought to defend her good repute. The casuists did but formulate social customs too prevalent to be suppressed, with the pious view of keeping men whom we call criminals within the pale of Holy Church. Small blame was it then to Cellini if he practised what the doctors preached! His acts of violence fell under what were then considered honourable categories. He speaks with satisfaction about them, because he plumed himself on their commission, and reckoned upon gaining credit with society. This curious self-complacency reaches its climax in some lines addressed to Bandinelli, who had cast Cellini's murders in his teeth. Cellini answered: "At any rate, the men I have killed do not shame me so much as your bad statues shame you; for the earth covers my victims, whereas yours are exposed to the view of the world." Little did he imagine how he would be arraigned, after the lapse of full three centuries, by English criticasters for what, at the very worst, he reckoned splendid crimes! Meanwhile an enormous mass of historical evidence remains to cast explanatory light upon his singular illusion.[30]

It is harder to extenuate Cellini's action upon two occasions when he killed nobody, but indulged an infernal instinct of revenge. On the first of these occasions, an innkeeper somewhere near Chioggia crossed his humour about the proper way of paying the host's bill.[31] Having paid it overnight, our friend managed to slice the man's new beds up with his knife next morning, and decamped, after doing more than fifty crowns' worth of damage. The second is one I cannot here conveniently deal with. It involves the whole episode of Caterina and Paolo Micceri in Paris, over which biographers of Cellini would willingly draw a veil, and the details of which are such as to justify their reticence before the respectable English public.[32] The only defence which might be urged for Cellini at this point is the one which Dante used in self-exculpation after breaking faith with Fra Alberigo on that hideous glacier in the lowest pit of hell.[33] In other words, it is necessary to invoke the principle that rogues should be unmercifully paid out in their own coin of roguery. But this argument will hardly serve to excuse either Cellini's brutalities or Dante's malice.


The revolting episode of Cellini's dealings with Caterina suggests another aspect of his character which must be lightly touched on. Not even a professed apologist can deny that he was reckless in the indulgence of his sensual appetites. We have no evidence that he ever felt the gentler emotions of love for a woman. Perhaps his passion for Angelica comes nearest to a tender or romantic sentiment; but the grotesque ending of that adventure deprives it of all dignity. On the other hand, women of loose life play a large part in his Memoirs; and it is clear that he changed mistresses with indiscriminate facility. There is, moreover, reason to believe that he was not free from the darker lusts which deformed Florentine society in that epoch.[34] The loves to which he yielded were animal, licentious, almost brutal; determined to some extent by an artist's feeling for beauty, but controlled by no moral sense and elevated by no spiritual enthusiasm.


Passing now from the man to the writer and the artist, we have first to regard Cellini as the composer of one of the world's three or four best autobiographies, and next as the most eminent exponent of the later Italian Renaissance in craftsmanship of several kinds.

It would be superfluous to quote authorities upon the high esteem in which the Memoirs are held, both for their style and matter, by Italians. Baretti's emphatic eulogy can hardly be called exaggerated: "The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, written by himself in the pure and unsophisticated idiom of the Florentine people, surpasses every book in our literature for the delight it affords the reader."

In truth, without multiplying passages of panegyric, I am confident that every one who may have curiously studied Italian history and letters will pronounce this book to be at one and the same time the most perfect extant monument of vernacular Tuscan prose, and also the most complete and lively source of information we possess regarding manners, customs, ways of feeling, and modes of acting in the sixteenth century. Those who have made themselves thoroughly familiar with Cellini's Memoirs, possess the substance of that many-sided epoch in the form of an epitome. It is the first book which a student of the Italian Renaissance should handle in order to obtain the right direction for his more minute researches. It is the last book to which he should return at the close of his exploratory voyages. At the commencement he will find it invaluable for placing him at the exactly proper point of view. At the end he will find it no less invaluable for testing and verifying the conclusions he has drawn from various sources and a wide circumference of learning. From the pages of this book the Genius of the Renaissance, incarnate in a single personality, leans forth and speaks to us. Nowhere else, to my mind, whether in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel or on Palladian palace fronts, in Ariosto's cantos or in Machiavelli's dissertations, do we find the full character of the epoch so authentically stamped. That is because this is no work of art or of reflection, but the plain utterance of a man who lived the whole life of his age, who felt its thirst for glory, who shared its adoration of the beautiful, who blent its paganism and its superstitions, who represented its two main aspects of exquisite sensibility to form and almost brutal ruffianism. We must not expect from Cellini the finest, highest, purest accents of the Renaissance. He does not, as an artist, transport us into the heavens of Michel Angelo and Tintoretto. He has nothing of Ariosto's golden melody or Tasso's romantic love-chant. He cannot wield Aretino's lash or Machiavelli's scalpel of analysis. But his Memoirs enable us to comprehend how those rarer produces of the Italian genius at a certain point of evolution were related to the common stuff of human nature in the race at large. For students of that age he is at once more and less than his illustrious contemporaries; less, inasmuch as he distinguished himself by no stupendous intellectual qualities; more, inasmuch as he occupied a larger sphere than each of them singly. He touched the life of that epoch at more points than any person who has left a record of his doings. He was the first goldsmith of his time, an adequate sculptor, a restless traveller, an indefatigable workman, a Bohemian of the purest water, a turbulent bravo, a courtier and companion of princes; finally, a Florentine who used his native idiom with incomparable vivacity of style. These qualities combined in a single personality, strongly marked by specific characteristics, yet peculiar to the sixteenth century in Italy, render him unique as a guide through the labyrinth of that brilliant but perplexing epoch.


The literary merits of Cellini's autobiography demand a passing notice. Notwithstanding the plebeian simplicity of his language, he has described some scenes with a dramatic vigour and a richness of colouring rarely to be found upon the pages of romance or history. Among these I would call attention to the Roman banquet, during which Diego, dressed magnificently like a woman, won the homage of assembled artists; to the conjuration in the Coliseum; Cecchino's deathbed; Benvenuto's vision of the sun while lying sick and hopeless in his dungeon; the phantom of Charon which haunted him throughout a lingering fever; the exhibition of his Jupiter in the great gallery of Fontainebleau; the Parisian law-court; and the long episode of his casting the bronze Perseus. His memory was so tenacious that he could present the incidents of bygone years, with all their circumstances, just as though his eye were on the object. Without conscious effort he communicates the atmosphere, the local colour, the specific feeling of each place he visited. Ferrara has a different note from Florence, Rome from Paris, in his narrative. Yet it is clear that he never took thought about word-painting. The literary result is not attained by external touches of description, but by the vigorous reproduction of a multitude of impressions made upon his eagerly observant nature. This quality of vivid vision makes itself peculiarly felt in the narrative of his dangerous passage across the Lake of Wallenstadt.[35] Here every detail contributes to the presentation of a specifically Swiss landscape—the steep and cavernous cliffs of the Churfirsten, the dreary rain beating upon precipitous lawns and hanging fir-woods, the night-watchman in the town of Glarus, the sudden breaking of a glorious day upon the Lake of Zurich, and then the little city of Zürich itself—città maravigliosa pulita quanto un gioiello.

Having already touched upon his power of portrait-painting with the pen, I need not return to that topic.[36] It should, however, be remarked that his method of sketching men resembles his treatment of things and places. There is very little of description. The characters present themselves so vividly before our eyes because they were so clearly visible to Cellini's mind while writing, because he so firmly seized what was to him essential in their personalities, and so powerfully communicated the impression made upon his sensibilities by contact with them.


Cellini's autobiography might also be studied from the side of humour. Many passages remind us of the Florentine Novelle, notably of the old tale entitled Il Grasso Legnaiuolo, and of Lasca's stories about Pilucca and his mischievous companions. Take, for example, the episode of his quarrel with Bernardone, and the burlesque revenge with which he chastised that fellow's coarseness.[37] The same note of Florentine bizarrerie distinguishes the less agreeable incident in the tavern near Chioggia.[38] Again, how racy, how native to the soil, is that altercation between Cellini and the old hag in a deserted street of the plague-stricken city![39] While posing as a hero, he was able to see the humorous side of himself also. This is shown in the passage where he relates how his good-natured housekeeper bantered him.[40] But it is enough to have indicated these aspects of the Memoirs. The charm of the whole book very largely consists in a vivacity and elasticity of narrative style, which passes from grave to gay, from passion to mirth, from the serious occupations of the artist to the light amusements of the man of pleasure, without perceptible transitions, the author's own intense individuality pervading and connecting each successive mood.


After reviewing Cellini's autobiography, it should be mentioned that he appeared in his own lifetime as an author.[41] He published two treatises: one upon the goldsmith's art, describing its several processes in detail; another upon sculpture, with special reference to bronze-foundry. These dissertations are of the highest value for students of Renaissance craftsmanship, at a time when the experience of centuries had been condensed in the practice and principles of a first-rate master. They rank, moreover, as excellent specimens of sound Italian style applied to the purpose of technical exposition.[42] In the next place, we possess the fragments of a discourse on Architecture, and a short defence of Sculpture against Painting, from which numerous details regarding the artist's works and theories can be derived.

Cellini, like every Florentine of many-sided genius, was also ambitious of making his mark as a poet. Some specimens of his compositions will be found translated in the following pages; and a collection has recently been formed of his scattered verses. As might be guessed, they are not the productions of a literary master; yet they confirm our opinion of his singularly keen and stringent personality. Having received no education in letters, Cellini never learned to write grammatically. His poetry suffers naturally more than his prose from awkward incoherences. He rhymed with difficulty; frequently tripped in rhythm and accent; and affected such far-fetched conceits and violent images that a large portion of his sonnets are unintelligible. Of these defects he was fully conscious, speaking with modest humour of his boschereccia Musa, or untutored rustic inspiration.[43]


Cellini has, finally, to be estimated as an artist in the narrower sense of that word. While approaching this part of our subject, it is worth remembering that he showed in boyhood a strong predilection for the arts of design. His father longed to make him a musician; but though the lad became a skilful flute-player, he displayed the strongest aversion to this exercise of his talents. On the other hand, his love for drawing and his inborn mastery over technical processes of all kinds made themselves so manifest, that no doubt remained about his real vocation. Like nearly all the greatest Florentine artists before him, sculptors, painters, architects, and engravers, he was put at an early age to the goldsmith's trade. Oreficeria, as then understood, formed an epitome of all the plastic arts.[44] The young goldsmith did not merely learn how to work in precious metals and to set jewels. He was bound to become acquainted with the mysteries of brass-foundry, the methods of hammering iron, the secrets of chiselling steel for medals and casting dies. He had to make himself an expert draughtsman, to study anatomy, to model from the nude, and to acquire familiarity with antique masterpieces. Enamelling and niello formed special branches of his craft; nor could architecture be neglected, because he was often called upon to fashion tabernacles, and to execute large works in gold or silver which resembled buildings by their intricacy of design. During the course of this apprenticeship he gained further insight into numerous subordinate processes, such as modelling in wax or stucco, baking terracotta, preparing foils for gems. He studied the qualities of precious stones and pearls. He handled every instrument, from the hammer of the goldbeater and the chisel of the stone-cutter down to the engraver's burin and the palette of paste-mixers. He had to be as ready at the anvil or the furnace as at the more delicate operations of wire-drawing and filigree manipulation. From the workshop of a master-goldsmith the apprentice went forth able to select his own particular branch of industry. Meanwhile it must not be forgotten that, so long as he remained a goldsmith, he was forced to work in miniature. His many technical accomplishments were employed chiefly in producing articles of plate, jewellery, and costly furniture. This made him, while he continued in the trade, a servant of popular caprice and fashion, which varied with the change of seasons. Those world-famous masters who, like Ghirlandajo, Donatello, and Brunelleschi, won glory by their subsequent achievements in painting, sculpture, and architecture, devoted themselves to special studies in the higher arts soon after their prenticedays were over. This was not the case with Cellini. He continued to be a goldsmith in the strict sense of that term until he had completed his fortieth year. This fact has to be taken into account when we criticise his serious efforts in statuary.

It does not appear that during his early manhood Cellini felt any inclination to abandon the craft which he had chosen in boyhood. Perhaps Nature had not gifted him with those imperative instincts which force some artists to become sculptors or painters. Perhaps the large admixture of the bravo and the pleasure-seeker in his character prevented him from applying to intellectual studies, and from using his technical acquirements as a stepping-stone toward nobler undertakings. It would indeed seem as though he was naturally formed to be a goldsmith, but that ambition led him at an advanced period of life to rival men who had already made their mark in sculpture. At any rate, he exercised his eminent artistic faculties through more than half his lifetime in the humbler trade, earning much money by his undisputed excellence, spending it freely, and forming no plans for the future. In this way he became an adept in all the technicalities of plastic art; but the heart and soul and vigour of the man found vent through other channels. In 1527, for instance, we know that he was upon the point of throwing up his profession and accepting a captaincy under Orazio Baglioni. The bravo and the soldier kept disputing with the artist in his nature. Meanwhile he never relaxed his efforts to become the most expert and inventive goldsmith of his time. The defects which are apparent in his more ambitious works, and which I shall have to point out shortly, may be ascribed to this composite temper and to this prolonged contentment with a subordinate branch of industry. He had the qualities of a consummate craftsman, not those of an imaginative artist, who is led irresistibly to dedicate his life with all its energies to the ideal.


Few of Benvenuto's masterpieces in jewellery and goldsmith's work survive.[45] Artists who aspire to immortality should shun the precious metals. The same fate has probably befallen Cellini's handiwork as befell the jewels he took to pieces in the Castle of S. Angelo. Critics have blamed his callousness on that occasion; but he knew well that it is of no use to waste a sigh over things in their nature so ephemeral as gold and silver settings. Still, some authentic pieces of his workmanship may be inspected in the collections of Florence, Vienna, Paris, Munich, and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Perhaps the most interesting are the golden salt-cellar at Vienna and the medallions of Clement VII. and Alessandro de' Medici, since these are minutely described for us in his Memoirs.

In technical excellence, as regards all processes of handling, chasing, and engraving, setting and mounting precious stones, enamelling metals, and adapting ingenious designs with bold invention to the special purpose of the object, these rare remnants of Cellini's art defy competition. It must, however, be admitted that, even while working on a small scale, he displayed more manual dexterity and more
CEL V01 D103 salt-cellar by cellini.jpg
salt-cellar by cellini
( vienna )

ornamental luxuriance than any of the higher intellectual gifts. The man, as he stands revealed in his autobiography, was lacking in reserve, in delicacy, in fineness of emotion, in what the Germans call Innigkeit, in elevation of soul and imaginative purity. The very qualities which render his life-history dramatic prove the externality of his nature, the violence and almost coarseness of his temperament, the absence of poetry, reflection, reverie, and spiritual atmosphere in his whole being. We are not, therefore, surprised to find that his artistic work, in spite of its prodigious skill, fecundity of invention, energy, and thoroughness of execution, is deficient in depth, deficient in sweetness, deficient in true dignity and harmony, deficient in those suggestive beauties which inspire a dream and waken sympathy in the beholder.

Shortcomings of this kind in the moral and intellectual elements of art were not peculiar to Cellini. They mark nearly the whole productions of his epoch. Only at Venice did the really grand style survive in the painting of Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. Michel Angelo indeed was yet alive in 1543, the year when Benvenuto essayed works on a large scale in sculpture; but Michel Angelo's greatest achievements belonged to the past. Giulio Romano retained something of the sacred fire which animated his master Raphael's pictures. His vigorous but coarse and soulless frescoes may be properly compared with Cellini's statuary. Meanwhile, the marbles of Bandinelli and Ammanati, the manneristic productions of Montelupo and Montorsoli, the slovenly performances of Vasari, the cold and vacuous paintings of Bronzino, reveal even a lower spiritual vitality. The lamp of plastic art had burned low in Italy.


When Cellini left the sphere of jewellery and goldsmith's work, that emptiness of emotional and moral intention on which I have been dwelling became even more apparent. It was during his second visit to France, in the year 1543, that he aspired to be a sculptor in the strict sense of the word. At Paris he began to cast statues on a large scale in bronze, and to design colossal works combining statuary and architecture. Of the clay models for the fountain at Fontainebleau, with its gigantic Mars, so minutely described in his autobiography, nothing, so far as I am aware, is now extant. But we still possess the Nymph, which was transferred from Fontainebleau by Henry II. to Diane de Poitier's country-seat at Anet, and thence removed to the galleries of the Louvre, where it may now be seen. The defects of this recumbent figure are obvious. Though it might pass muster on a candlestick, the model, expanded to something over life-size, reveals a fatal want of meaning. The vacant features, the defective physical structure, and the inert pose of this nude woman are not compensated by the success of Benvenuto's casting, which is indeed remarkable. All the bad points of the later Florentine school appear here—a preposterous elongation of the body, an affected attenuation of the joints and extremities, and a complete absence of expression.


It was not perhaps Cellini's fault that, having worked till past forty as a goldsmith, he should fail to produce an ideal statue at the first attempt. We ought rather to note with admiration his industry in the pursuit of this new aim, and the progress he afterwards made under great difficulties at Florence. His sojourn at Paris in the service of King Francis somewhat spoiled him as a man, but powerfully stimulated his energies as an artist. After his return to Italy, he was always more or less discontented with his lot; but he never ceased to be ambitious. From that last period of his active life (1545-1559) five eminent specimens of sculptor's work remain. One of these is the large bronze bust of Duke Cosimo, now to be seen in the Palazzo del Bargello at Florence. It is an unsympathetic and heavy piece of portraiture, but true to the character of the model. A second is the bust of Bindo Altoviti in the Palazzo Altoviti at Rome. Another is the antique statue in the Uffizzi, restored by Benvenuto for a Ganymede. He had to supply the head, arms, and part of the legs of this fragment. The marble, so far as I remember, is well wrought, but the motive of the restored figure shows a misconception of classical art. The boy's head, to begin with, is like some wax block in a barber's window—expressionless, simpering, and crisply curled. Then, instead of lifting the cup for Jove to drink from, this Florentine Ganymede teases a fawning eagle at his side by holding up a goldfinch for the royal bird to peck at. Before speaking of the Perseus, which is Cellini's masterpiece, I must allude to his Crucifix in white marble. This he esteemed one of his best productions, and we have abundant evidence to prove that folk in Florence were of his opinion. It still exists in the Escorial, whither the Grand Duke sent it as a present to Philip II. of Spain. Not having seen the Crucifix, I can pass no judgment on its artistic quality or value as a piece of Christian sculpture.[46]


Cellini's most substantial title to fame rests, and must always rest, upon his Perseus, that dramatic bronze so superbly placed upon its pedestal in the Loggia de' Lanzi, fronting the great piazza of Florence. Until quite recently this statue stood in close proximity to Michel Angelo's David. It still challenges comparison with Donatello's Judith, the Hercules and Cacus of Bandinelli, Ammanati's Neptune, and Gian Bologna's Rape of the Sabines. Surrounded by these earlier and contemporary performances of the Florentine school, the Perseus holds its own with honour. It lacks, indeed, the severe pregnancy and sombre reserve of Donatello's style. It misses the athletic simplicity and massive strength of Michel Angelo's hero. But it has something of fascination, a bravura brilliancy, a sharpness of technical precision, a singular and striking picturesqueness, which the works of those elder masters want. Far above Gian Bologna's academical group of two naked men and a naked woman, above the blatant incapacity of Bandinelli and the dull pomposity of Ammanati, the Perseus soars into a region of authentic, if not pure or sublime, inspiration. No one who has seen it once will forget that ornate figure of the demigod, triumphant in his stately pose above the twisted corpse of the decapitated Gorgon.

Much might be urged in depreciation of Cellini's Perseus. Contrary to the traditions of later Florentine design, the hero's body is too thick, his limbs too coarse, and his head too large for statuesque dignity. Why this should be so tempts our curiosity; for the small wax model made by Cellini, and now preserved among several precious relics of like sort in the Palazzo del Bargello, exhibits the same figure with longer and slimmer proportions. There the Perseus stands as light and airy as Gian Bologna's Mercury, without any loss of his superhuman vigour. I have sometimes indulged the conjecture that Benvenuto deliberately shortened and thickened his statue with the view of working it in bronze. We know that he was anxiously preoccupied with the problem of casting the whole figure in such wise that the liquid metal should fill all parts of the mould, from the upraised head of Medusa to the talaria and feet of Perseus, at one jet. He succeeded in this tour de force of technical dexterity. But possibly he sacrificed the grace and elevation of his own conception to the ambition of the craftsman. Be this as it may, the first defect to notice in the Perseus is this of physical vulgarity. Then the face is comparatively vacant of expression, though less so than with many of the master's works. Next, the helmet is surcharged with ornament, and the torso displays many meaningless muscular details. But after these criticisms have been made, the group—that is, the conquering hero and the prostrate Gorgon—remains one of the most attractive produces of modern statuary. We discern in it the last spark of genuine Italian Renaissance inspiration.[47] It is still instinct with the fire and bizarre force of Florentine genius. The pedestal has been, not altogether unjustly, blamed for being too small for the statue it supports. In proportion to the mass of bronze above it, this elaborately decorated base is slight and overloaded with superfluous details. Yet I do not feel sure that Cellini might not have pleaded something in self-defence against our criticism. No one thinks of the pedestal when he has once caught sight of Perseus. It raises the demigod in air; and that suffices for the sculptor's purpose. Afterwards, when our minds are satiated with the singular conception so intensely realised by the enduring art of bronze, we turn in leisure moments to the base on which the statue rests. Our fancy plays among those masks and cornucopias, those goats and female Satyrs, those little snuff-box deities, and the wayward bas-relief beneath them. There is much to amuse, if not to instruct or inspire us there. Although the Perseus may not be a great work of plastic design, worthy of sculpture in its best periods, it can never cease to be the most characteristic product of the vehement, ambitious artist's soul which throbbed in the writer of Cellini's Memoirs. It remains the final effort of Florentine genius upon the wane, striking a last blow for the ideals, mistaken, perchance, but manfully pursued, which Florence followed through the several stages of the Renaissance.


Cellini's autobiography circulated in MS. and was frequently copied before its first committal to the press in 1730. The result is that the extant MSS. differ considerably in their readings, and that the editions, of which I am acquainted with six, namely, those of Cocchi, Carpani, Tassi, Molini, Bianchi, and Camerini, have by no means equal value.[48] The one to be generally recommended is that of Signor B. Bianchi, founded upon the preceding edition of Molini. Tassi and Molini, I must state, were the first editors to avail themselves of the original or parent codex, while Bianchi compared Molini's printed text throughout with the autograph. This authoritative MS. belongs to the Laurentian collection in Florence. It was written for the most part by Michele di Goro Vestri, the youth whom Cellini employed as his amanuensis; in some parts also by himself, and again by a second amanuensis. Perhaps we owe its abrupt and infelicitous conclusion to the fact that Benvenuto disliked the trouble of writing with his own hand. From notes upon the codex, it appears that this was the MS. submitted to Benedetto Varchi in 1559. It once belonged to Andrea, the son of Lorenzo Cavalcanti. His son, Lorenzo Cavalcanti, gave it to the poet Redi, who used it as a testo di lingua for the Delia Cruscan vocabulary. Subsequently it passed into the hands of the booksellers, and was bought by L. Poirot,who bequeathed it, on his death in 1825, to the Laurentian Library.[49]

The autobiography has been translated into German by Goethe, into French by Leopold Leclanché, and into English by Nugent and Roscoe. The German version, I need hardly say, is an excellent piece of pure and solid style; and, for the most part, I have found it reproduce the meaning of the

original with fidelity. The French, which appeared subsequently to a version of Vasari by the same translator, displays a more intimate familiarity with sixteenth-century Italian than Goethe's; but it is sometimes careless, especially toward the conclusion, showing that the writer did not always choose to follow Cellini in his redundancies of phrase. Of the English version which bears the name of Thomas Roscoe, son to the distinguished author of the Lives of Lorenzo de' Medici and Leo X, I am unable to speak very highly. It has the merit of a sound old-fashioned style, but it is grossly inaccurate; the unintentional misunderstandings of the text are innumerable, and the translator has felt himself at liberty to omit or to misrepresent whole passages which he deemed unfit for ears and eyes polite. Since my excuse for offering anew translation to. the English public rests upon the deficiencies of Roscoe, I must be permitted to point out a few of his errors in this place.

To begin with, although Mr. Roscoe in his preface declares that he has adhered closely to the original text published by Molini,he deals unscrupulously with some important passages. For example, he blurs the incident of Faustina and her waiting-maid recorded in book i. chapter xxix. He suppresses the episode of Paolo Micceri and Caterina in book ii. chapters xxx., xxxiii.-xxxv. He confuses the story of Cencio and La Gambetta in book ii. chapter lxi. It is true that he might defend his action on the score that these passages are unedifying and offensive; but he ought to have indicated the nature and extent of his modifications and omissions. Personally, I am of opinion that if a book is worth translating, it ought to be set forth at full. Upon this principle I have made my own version, feeling that it is not right to defraud English readers of any insight into the conditions of society in the sixteenth century, or of any insight into the character of Cellini himself, which these Memoirs may afford. Here, however, there is room for various judgments; and some critics may maintain that Roscoe chose the more expedient method.

Upon the point of accuracy, on the other hand, all competent judges will be agreed. I therefore proceed to select a few test-passages which will show how little Roscoe's translation is to be relied upon. In each case I will first copy the Italian, next add a literal version, and finally give Roscoe's words:


Questo cartone fu la prima bella opera che Michel Agnolo mostrò delle maravigliose sue virtù, e lo fece a gara con un altro che lo faceva. (Bianchi, p. 22.)

This cartoon was the first fine work of art which Michel Agnolo displayed in proof of his marvellous talents, and he made it in competition with another draughtsman (i.e., Lionardo da Vinci).

This cartoon was the first in which Michel Agnolo displayed his extraordinary abilities; as he made this and another, which were to adorn the hall. (Roscoe, p. 21.)[50]


Perchè vedevo continuamente i fatti del divino Michel Agnolo. . . e da quella mai mi sono ispiccato. (Bianchi, p. 23.)

Because I had perpetually before my eyes the works of the divine Michel Agnolo. . . and from it I have never swerved.

Because I had seen the works of the divine Michel Agnolo. . . and never once lost sight of it. (Roscoe, p. 23.)


Così ci legammo i grembiuli indietro. (Bianchi, p. 25.)

So we tied our aprons behind our backs.

So we buckled on our knapsacks. (Roscoe, p. 25.)


Mi pregò, che io facessi di sorte che lui l' avessi a' sua di. (Bianchi, p. 101.)

He begged me so to work that he should have it during his lifetime.

Requested me to endeavour to please him by my execution.


Me ne andai dalli destri del mastio. (Bianchi, p. 239.)

I went toward the latrines of the fortress.

I went and got out upon the right side of the tower. (Roscoe, p. 248.)


Perchè io ho considerato che in quella vostra forma è entrato più roba che 'l suo dovere. (Bianchi, p. 322.) For I have reflected that more metal entered that mould of yours than it could properly hold.

For I have taken into consideration that there has been a greater consumption of metal upon this work than should have been. (Roscoe, p. 323.)


Se io avessi veduto mettervi nella forma l' anima, con una sola parola io v' arei insegnato che la figura sarebbe venuta benissimo. (Bianchi, p. 323.)

If I had seen you placing your block inside the mould, I could with one word have taught you how the figure would have come out to perfection.

If I had but instructed you with a single word, the figure would have come out admirably. (Roscoe, p. 323.)


Mandato a l' Elba. (Bianchi, p. 421.)

Sent to the island of Elba.

Sent to the Elbe. (Roscoe, p. 413.)


La qual cosa non credette mai nessuno di questi pratici di quella arte. (Bianchi, p. 421.)

Which none of the masters versed in that art believed to be possible.

And do not imagine that every common artist could have done as much. (Roscoe, p. 413-)


E' bisognava fare molto maggiore la fornace, dove io arei potuto fare un rame di gitto, grosso quanto io ho la gamba, e con quella gravezza di metallo caldo per forza ve l' arei fatto andare; dove il mio ramo che va insino a' piedi quella sei braccia che io dico, non è grosso più che dua dita. Imperò e' non portava 'l pregio. (Bianchi, p. 423.)

I must have made the furnace much larger, in which case I might have constructed a conduit as thick as my leg, and so by the weight of the molten metal I could have forced it down; whereas, my pipe, which runs the six cubits I have stated to the statue's feet, is not thicker than two inches. However, it was not worth the trouble and expense.

I must then have made the furnace much bigger, to be able to cast apiece of brass as thick as my leg, and with that weight of hot metal I should have made it come out by force; whereas, my brass, which goes down to the feet six cubits, as I mentioned before, is not above two inches thick. Therefore it was not worth your notice. (Roscoe, p. 415.)


Io feci una manica. (Bianchi, p. 424.)

I made a funnel-shaped furnace.

I made a sort of fence. (Roscoe, p. 416.)


Dare nelle spine. (Bianchi, p. 426.)

Drive in the plugs.

Pour out the hot metal. (Roscoe, p. 417.)


Il principe e Don Giovanni. (Bianchi, p. 450.)

The Prince (or Duke's eldest son) and Don Giovanni.

The princes, Don Giovanni, &c. (Roscoe, p. 437-)


E diceva male di questo popolo. (Bianchi, p. 455.)

And he spoke abusively of that people of Florence.

And all the ill that was said of him by the populace. (Roscoe, p. 441.)


Io ne feci un poco di mal giudizio, ma io non immaginavo nulla di quello che mi avvenne. (Bianchi, p. 481.)

I drew a somewhat bad conclusion from his hint; but I did not in the least picture to myself what was going to happen to me.

I was guilty of an error in judgment, but was not at all mistaken in what happened to me. (Roscoe, p. 467.)


A voi e' danno tutte le stoviglie. (Bianchi, p. 483.)

To you they give all the crockery.

They give you napkins. (Roscoe, p. 469.)


Io sentendomi ardere il sesso. (Bianchi, p. 483.)

I, feeling my seat burn.

I felt my brain all on fire. (Roscoe, p. 469.)


Importava la maggior gabella; e che egli non mancherebbe. (Bianchi, p. 490.)

It (the lease) involved the highest tax, and that he would not fail of his word.

The farm would produce more, and could not possibly fail. (Roscoe, p. 475.)

I have selected these few instances at random, when I might have culled the like by handfuls. But I may furthermore add that Roscoe is hardly less negligent in translating the Italian of Cellini's commentators. Thus we read on page 265 this version of a note by Carpani: "He was under apprehension of being flayed alive." Carpani wrote scannato, which means having his throat cut.[51] It remains in the last place to be remarked that Roscoe is not excused by having followed bad readings of the original or incomplete authorities. His translation (dated, in its second edition, January 1, 1847) appeared after the labours of Carpani, Tassi, and Molini, and professes on the" titlepage to be "collated with the new text of Giuseppe Molini."

I have now shown reason why a new translation of Cellini's autobiography in our language is not a superfluity. At the same time, after severely criticising my predecessor, I disclaim the pretension that my own version will be found impeccable. There are many passages which it is extremely hard for an Italian even, versed in the old dialect of Tuscany, to understand.[52] This is due in a great measure to Cellini's colloquial style, and to the involved constructions occasioned by his impetuous flow of utterance in dictation, but also to his habitual use of familiar terms regarding life and art, the exact significance of which can now be hardly reproduced. Furthermore, I may add that it is no easy matter to avoid slips while working through so long a narrative in prose, and aiming at a certain uniformity of diction.

The truth is, that to translate Cellini's Memoirs taxes all the resources of the English language. It is, in the first place, well-nigh impossible to match that vast vocabulary of vulgar phrases and technical terminology. Some of Cellini's most vivid illustrations owe their pungency and special colouring to customs which have long passed out of current usage. Many of his most energetic epigrams depend for their effect upon a spontaneous employment of contemporary Florentine slang. Not a few of his most striking descriptions lose their value without the precise equivalents for works of art or handicraft or armoury now obsolete. In the next place, his long-winded and ungrammatical periods, his suspended participles, his vehemently ill-conjugated verbs, his garrulous anacolutha and passionate aposiopeses, his ingenious recourse to repeated pronouns and reiterated adverbs for sustaining a tottering sentence, his conversational resumption of the same connective phrases, his breathless and fiery incoherence following short incisive clauses of a glittering and trenchant edge, all these peculiarities, dependent on the man's command of his vernacular and his untutored talent for expression, offer stumbling-blocks at every turn to the translator who wishes to preserve something of the tone of the original while presenting a continuous discourse to modern readers. The almost impossible task has to be attempted of reproducing the effect of heedless animated talking.

My own system has been to adopt a compromise between such literal rendering as might have made the English version not only unpalatable, but almost unintelligible, and such elaborate recasting of the original as would have preserved the sense at a regrettable sacrifice of character and vivacity. I may here notice that Cellini appears, at the commencement of his undertaking, to have been more tentative, more involved in diction, than he afterwards became; in fact, he only gradually formed his style. Therefore I have suffered the earlier sections of my version to retain a certain stiffness, which relaxes by degrees until the style of the translator is in its turn fashioned.

  1. Renaissance in Italy, vol. iii. ch. viii.
  2. Vita di Benvenuto Cellini, lib. ii. ch. c.
  3. Compare the following passage from a memorandum written by Cellini: "Mi fu risposto da un gran gentilhuomo di corte, il quale non mi disse altro se non che io ero un terribile huomo; e repricandani pi volte questo nome di terribile, io gli risposi che i terribli si erano quegli strumenti che si empierano di incenso sol per honorare Iddio." Trattati, &c., p. xlii.
  4. Vita di Benvenuto Cellini, lib. i. ch. lxxiv.
  5. "Fain would I recall to life Benvenuto Cellini, who without reserve or restraint spoke evil of things ill done; he used to exalt our cupola with indefatigable praise as something unique in the world; he called it the miracle of beauteous masterpieces. Assuredly that man would jump out of his skin with rage to see it thus bedaubed; leaping and running and fulminating, he would go about the city uttering his indignation at the top of his voice, and would crucify this little George of Arezzo."
  6. Vita, lib. ii. ch. lxxxiii.
  7. Vita, lib. i. ch. ciii.
  8. Vita, lib. i. ch. lxxxix.
  9. Vita, lib. i. ch. cxxviii.
  10. On the appearance of this passage in the Fortnightly Review for January 1887, I received a communication from H. D. Pearsall, Esq., of 3 Cursitor Street, expressing some interest in my account of Cellini's aureole. He says: "I observed the phenomenon some years ago in India, and the attendant circumstances were such as you mention. It is curious, as illustrating the want of observation of most people, that I have never yet met with any one but yourself who had observed it." In explanation of the aureole he adds: "It appeared to me that the cause was simply the reflection of the direct rays of the sun from the wet surface of the blades of grass. The reason why a spectator at one side cannot see it would, therefore, not be that the illuminated person's body focussed the diffused rays, but simply the direct consequence of the law of reflection of light (angle of incidence ═ angle of refraction), so that the reflected rays would reach the eye of the object, but not that of any person at a little distance to one side. The aureole never extended lower than my shoulder, evidently for the same reason." This explanation is so obviously superior to that suggested by my own vague and unscientific phrase in the text, that I am grateful for the permission to report it in Mr. Pearsall's own words. It is worth adding, perhaps, that when the object finds himself at a considerable distance from the reflecting surface of wet grass, as when, for instance, he is driving in a carriage above a grassy meadow, the aureole will extend somewhat lower than his shoulder. This I have observed. [Since this note was first published, a friend has pointed out to me a passage in Thoreau's Walden, at the beginning of the article named Baber Farm, which shows that Thoreau had observed the phenomenon I have described, and, like me, had connected his observation with Cellini's Memoirs. This confirmatory evidence gives me pleasure, and I am glad to report it.—J. A. S.]
  11. Vita, lib, i, ch. xcii.
  12. Benvenuto Cellini a Roma, &c. Arch. Stor, di Roma, 1875. Notizie inedite delle relazioni tra il Cardinale Ipp d'Este e B. C., Modena, 1862.
  13. Lib. i. chaps. lxxv., xcii.
  14. Ibid., chap. ci.
  15. Ibid., chap. ciii.
  16. Ibid., chap. lxxxiv.
  17. Lib. i. chap, xliii.
  18. Lib. ii. chap. I.
  19. See Plon, Benvenuto Cellini, p. 67.
  20. Blanchi, p. 588.
  21. Lib. ii. chap. cxii.
  22. See Mabellini, Delle Rime di B. C.,p. 104, and Montazio, I prigionieri del Mastio di Volterra, p. 200, note.
  23. Lib. i. chap. ciii.
  24. Ibid., chap. cxv.
  25. Ibid., chap. lxvi.
  26. Lib. ii. chap, xxxvii.
  27. Ibid., chaps, xxxiii., lxvi.
  28. Ibid., chaps. iv., xxviii.
  29. Lib. i. chap. li.
  30. See my Renaissance in Italy, vol. vi. chaps. v., vi.
  31. Lib. i. chap. lxxix.
  32. Lib. ii. chaps. xxix.-xxxiv.
  33. Divina Commedia, Inferno, xxxiii. 109-150.
  34. Of course he loudly protests his innocence. But his precipitate flight after the affair of Cencio (lib. ii. chap. lxi.) is suspicious. So is the language used by Bandinelli in his altercation with Cellini (ib., chap. lxx.). It must also be added that he <was imprisoned in 1556 on a charge of unnatural vice. See Mabellini (Delle Rime di B. C, pp. 106, 129) on this point.
  35. Lib. i. chaps, xcv.-xcvii.
  36. See above, pp. 26, 27.
  37. Lib, ii. chap. lxxxix.
  38. Lib. i. chap. lxxix.
  39. Ibid., chap. xl.
  40. Lib. ii. chap. lxxvii.
  41. The prose works and collected poems may best be studied in Milanesi's edition (Florence, Le Monnier, 1857). Mabellini's little book, Delle Rime di B. C. (Roma, Paravia, 1885), deserves careful attention for its patient and subtle analysis of Cellini's verses.
  42. We have good reason to suppose that they were re-written by a man of letters before going to press. Signor Milanesi believes that Gherardo Spini performed this office for the author. See his Trattati, &c., Florence, Le Monnier, 1857, p. xvii.
  43. 2 See Milanesi's edition of the Trattati, cited above.
  44. Of this relation of Oreficeria to the other arts Cellini himself was fully conscious. He writes as follows: "L' arte dell' orefice, per essere maggior arte di tutte." Trattati, p. 277.

    He speaks of architecture, sculpture, and painting as "sorelle carnali" of oreficeria. Ibid., p. 6..

  45. The exhaustive work of M. Eugene Plon, Ben<venuto Cellini, Orfèvre, Médailleur, Sculpteur, Paris, 1883, contains a complete catalogue of authentic and doubtful pieces.
  46. The fine engraving of this crucifix in Plans book (planche xx.) suggests that Cellini aimed at a realistic representation of physical exhaustion.
  47. The works of Jean Boullogne of Douai, commonly called Gian Bologna, which are somewhat later in date than Cellini's, ought perhaps to have been mentioned as exceptions in the sentence above.
  48. 1. Antonio Cocchi's edition was printed at Naples in 1730, ninth the date Cc Ionia. 2. Gio. Palamede Carpani's was printed in three volumes at Milan, Soc. Tip. de' Classici Italiani, in 1806. 3. Francesco Tassi's appeared at Florence, Guglielmo Pialti, in three 'volumes, 1829. 4. Giuseppe Molini s appeared at Florence, Tipogr. all insegna di Dante, in two volumes, 1832. This edition had been preceded by a duodecimo text published by Molini on the 30th of December 1830, simultaneously with Tassi s above mentioned. When Molini compared Tassi's text with the Laurentian MS., he saw that there was room for a third edition (that of 1832), more exact than either. 5. B. Bianchi's appeared at Florence, Le Monnier, 1 vol., 1852. 6. That of Eugenio Camerini, Milan, Sonzogno, 1886, is a popular reprint, with an introduction and some additional notes. The text which I have principally used is Bianchi's. I may here take occasion to explain that the notes appended to my translation have to a large extent been condensed from the annotations of Carpani's, Tassi's, and Molini's editions, with some additional information derived from Bianchi, Camerini, and the valuable French work of Plon (B. C, Orfevre, Medailleur, Sculpteur, Paris, 1883). A considerable number of notes have been supplied by myself, partly upon details respecting the Italian text, and partly upon points connected with history and technical artistic processes. It does not seem necessary after this acknowledgment, to refer each item to the original sources which have been successively incorporated into a variorum commentary on the Memoirs, or to indicate the portion I can claim for my own researches.
  49. See Tassi, vol. i. pp. xix.-xxiv,; and Molini, vol. i. pp. vi.-ix.,for the history of this MS.
  50. I quote from Bohn's edition, London, 1850. The italics are mine.
  51. Carpani, vol. i. p. 423.
  52. See Molini's preface to his edition, vol. i. p. x.