The Life of Benvenuto Cellini/Section LXXXVIII to C
While I was working at these bagatelles, the Prince, and Don Giovanni, and Don Arnando, and Don Garzia kept always hovering around me, teasing me whenever the Duke's eyes were turned. I begged them for mercy's sake to hold their peace. They answered: "That we cannot do." I told them: "What one cannot is required of no one! So have your will! Along with you!" At this both Duke and Duchess burst out laughing.Another evening, after I had finished the small bronze figures which are wrought into the pedestal of Perseus, that is to say, the Jupiter, Mercury, Minerva, and Danæ, with the little Perseus seated at his mother's feet, I had them carried into the room where I was wont to work, and arranged them in a row, raised somewhat above the line of vision, so that they produced a magnificent effect. The Duke heard of this, and made his entrance sooner than usual. It seems that the person who informed his Excellency praised them above their merit, using terms like "far superior to the ancients," and so forth; wherefore the Duke came talking pleasantly with the Duchess about my doings. I rose at once and went to meet them. With his fine and truly princely manner he received me, lifting his right hand, in which he held as superb a pear-graft as could possibly be seen. "Take it, my Benvenuto!" he exclaimed; "plant this pear in your garden." To these words I replied with a delighted gesture: "O my lord, does your most illustrious Excellency really mean that I should plant it in the garden of my house?" "Yes," he said, "in the garden of the house which belongs to you. Have you
understood me?" I thanked his Excellency, and the Duchess in like manner, with the best politeness I could use.
After this they both took seats in front of the statues, and for more than two hours went on talking about nothing but the beauties of the work. The Duchess was wrought up to such an enthusiasm that she cried out: "I do not like to let those exquisite figures be wasted on the pedestal down there in the piazza, where they will run the risk of being injured. I would much rather have you fix them in one of my apartments, where they will be preserved with the respect due to their singular artistic qualities." I opposed this plan with many forcible arguments; but when I saw that she was determined I should not place them on the pedestal where they now stand, I waited till next day, and went to the palace about twenty-two o'clock. Ascertaining that the Duke and Duchess were out riding, and having already prepared the pedestal, I had the statues carried down, and soldered them with lead into their proper niches. Oh, when the Duchess knew of this, how angry she was! Had it not been for the Duke, who manfully defended me, I should have paid dearly for my daring. Her indignation about the pearls, and now again about this matter of the statues, made her so contrive that the Duke abandoned his amusements in our workshop. Consequently I went there no more, and was met again with the same obstructions as formerly whenever I wanted to gain access to the palace.
I returned to the Loggia, whither my Perseus had already been brought, and went on putting the last touches to my work, under the old difficulties always; that is to say Jack of money, and a hundred untoward accidents, the half of which would have cowed a man armed with adamant.
However, I pursued my course as usual; and one morning, after I had heard mass at San Piero Scheraggio,that brute Bernardone, broker, worthless goldsmith, and by the Duke's grace purveyor to the mint, passed by me. No sooner had he got outside the church than the dirty pig let fly four cracks which might have been heard from San Miniato. I cried: "Yah! pig, poltroon, donkey! is that the noise your filthy talents make?" and ran off for a cudgel. He took refuge on the instant in the mint; while I stationed myself inside my house-door, which I left ajar, setting a boy at watch upon the street to warn me when the pig should leave the mint. After waiting some time, I grew tired, and my heat cooled. Reflecting, then, that blows are not dealt by contract, and that some disaster might ensue, I resolved to wreak my vengeance by another method. The incident took place about the feast of our San Giovanni, one or two days before; so I composed four verses, and stuck them up in an angle of the church where people go to ease themselves. The verses ran as follows:
"Here lieth Bernardone, ass and pig,
Spy, broker, thief, in whom Pandora planted
All her worst evils, and from thence transplanted
Into that brute Buaccio's carcass big.'
Both the incident and the verses went the round of the palace, giving the Duke and Duchess much amusement. But, before the man himself knew what I had been up to, crowds of people stopped to read the lines and laughed immoderately at them. Since they were looking towards the mint and fixing their eyes on Bernardone,his son, Maestro Baccio, taking notice of their gestures, tore the paper down with fury. The elder bit his thumb, shrieking threats out with that hideous voice of his, which comes forth through his nose; indeed he made a brave defiance.
When the Duke was informed that the whole of my work for the Perseus could be exhibited as finished, he came one day to look at it. His manner showed clearly that it gave him great satisfaction; but afterwards he turned to some gentlemen attending him and said: "Although this statue seems in our eyes a very fine piece, still it has yet to win the favour of the people. Therefore, my Benvenuto, before you put the very last touches on, I should like you, for my sake, to remove a part of the scaffolding on the side of the piazza, some day toward noon, in order that we may learn what folk think of it. There is no doubt that when it is thrown open to space and light, it will look very differently from what it does in this enclosure." I replied with all humility to his Excellency: "You must know, my lord, that it will make more than twice as good a show. Oh, how is it that your most illustrious Excellency has forgotten seeing it in the garden of my house? There, in that large extent of space, it showed so bravely that Bandinello, coming through the garden of the Innocents to look at it, was compelled, in spite of his evil and malignant nature, to praise it, he who never praised aught or any one in all his life! I perceive that your Excellency lends too ready an ear to that fellow." When I had done speaking, he smiled ironically and a little angrily; yet he replied with great kindness: "Do what I ask, my Benvenuto, just to please me."
When the Duke had left, I gave orders to have the screen removed. Yet some trifles of gold, varnish, and various other little finishings were still wanting; wherefore I began to murmur and complain indignantly, cursing the unhappy day which brought me to Florence. Too well I knew already the great and irreparable sacrifice I made when I left France; nor could I discover any reasonable ground for hope that I might prosper in the future with my prince and patron. From the commencement to the middle and the ending, everything that I had done had been performed to my great disadvantage. Therefore, it was with deep ill-humour that I disclosed my statue on the following day.
Now it pleased God that, on the instant of its exposure to view, a shout of boundless enthusiasm went up in commendation of my work, which consoled me not a little. The folk kept on attaching sonnets to the posts of the door, which was protected with a curtain while I gave the last touches to the statue. I believe that on the same day when I opened it a few hours to the public, more than twenty were nailed up, all of them overflowing with the highest panegyrics. Afterwards, when I once more shut it off from view, every day brought sonnets, with Latin and Greek verses; for the University of Pisa was then in vacation, and all the doctors and scholars kept vying with each other who could praise it best. But what gratified me most, and inspired me with most hope of the Duke's support, was that the artists, sculptors and painters alike, entered into the same generous competition. I set the highest value on the eulogies of that excellent painter Jacopo Pontormo, and still more on those of his able pupil Bronzino, who was not satisfied with merely publishing his verses, but sent them by his lad Sandrino's hand to my own house. They spoke so generously of my performance, in that fine style of his which is most exquisite, that this alone repaid me somewhat for the pain of my long troubles. So then I closed the screen, and once more set myself to finishing my statue.
The great compliments which this short inspection of my Perseus had elicited from the noble school of Florence, though they were well known to the Duke, did not prevent him from saying: "I am delighted that Ben v en uto has had this trifling satisfaction, which will spur him on to the desired conclusion with more speed and diligence. Do not, however, let him imagine that, when his Perseus shall be finally exposed to view from all sides, folk in general will be so lavish of their praises. On the contrary, I am afraid that all its defects will then be brought home to him, and more will be detected than the statue really has. So let him arm himself with patience." These were precisely the words which Bandinello had whispered in the Duke's ears, citing the works of Andrea del Verrocchio, who made that fine bronze of Christ and S. Thomas on the front of Orsammichele; at the same time he referred to many other statues, and dared even to attack the marvellous David of divine Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, accusing it of only looking well if seen in front; finally, he touched upon the multitude of sarcastic sonnets which were called forth by his own Hercules and Cacus, and wound up with abusing the people of Florence. Now the Duke, who was too much inclined to credit his assertions, encouraged the fellow to speak thus, and thought in his own heart that things would go as he had prophesied, because that envious creature Bandinello never ceased insinuating malice. On one occasion it happened that the gallows bird Bernardone, the broker, was present at these conversations, and in support of Bandinello's calumnies, he said to the Duke: "You must remember, prince, that statues on a large scale are quite a different dish of soup from little figures. I do not refuse him the credit of being excellent at statuettes in miniature. But you will soon see that he cannot succeed in that other sphere of art." To these vile suggestions he added many others of all sorts, plying his spy's office, and piling up a mountain of lies to boot.
Now it pleased my glorious Lord and immortal God that at last I brought the whole work to completion: and on a certain Thursday morning I exposed it to the public gaze. Immediately, before the sun was fully in the heavens, there assembled such a multitude of people that no words could describe them. All with one voice contended which should praise it most. The Duke was stationed at a window low upon the first floor of the palace, just above the entrance; there, half hidden, he heard everything the folk were saying of my statue. After listening through several hours, he rose so proud and happy in his heart that he turned to his attendant, Messer Sforza,and exclaimed: "Sforza, go and seek out Benvenuto; tell him from me that he has delighted me far more than I expecled: say too that I shall reward him in a way which will astonish him; so bid him be of good courage."
In due course, Messer Sforza discharged this glorious embassy, which consoled me greatly. I passed a happy day, partly because of the Duke's message, and also because the folk kept pointing me out as something marvellous and strange. Among the many who did so, were two gentlemen, deputed by the Viceroy of Sicily to our Duke on public business. Now these two agreeable persons met me upon the piazza: I had been shown them in passing, and now they made monstrous haste to catch me up; then, with caps in hand, they uttered an oration so ceremonious, that it would have been excessive for a Pope. I bowed, with every protestation of humility. They meanwhile continued loading me with compliments, until at last I prayed them, for kindness' sake, to leave the piazza in my company, because the folk were stopping and staring at me more than at my Perseus. In the midst of all these ceremonies, they went so far as to propose that I should come to Sicily, and offered to make terms which should content me. They told me how Fra Giovan Agnolo de' Servi had constructed a fountain for them, complete in all its parts, and decorated with a multitude of figures; but it was not in the same good style they recognised in Perseus, and yet they had heaped riches on the man. I would not suffer them to finish all their speeches, but answered: "You give me much cause for wonder, seeking as you do to make me quit the service of a prince who is the greatest patron of the arts that ever lived; and I too here in my own birthplace, famous as the school of every art and science! Oh, if my soul's desire had been set on lucre, I could have stayed in France, with that great monarch Francis, who gave me a thousand golden crowns a year for board, and paid me in addition the price of all my labour. In his service I gained more than four thousand golden crowns the year."With these and such-like words I cut their
ceremonies short, thanking them for the high praises they had bestowed upon me, which were indeed the best reward that artists could receive for their labours. I to old them they had greatly stimulated my zeal, so that I hoped, after a few years were passed, to exhibit another masterpiece, which I dared believe would yield far truer satisfaction to our noble school of Florence. The two gentlemen were eager to resume the thread of their complimentary proposals, whereupon I, lifting my cap and making a profound bow, bade them a polite farewell.
When two more days had passed, and the chorus of praise was ever on the increase, I resolved to go and present myself to the Duke, who said with great good-humour: "My Benvenuto, you have satisfied and delighted me; but I promise that I will reward you in such wise as will make you wonder; and I tell you that I do not mean to delay beyond to-morrow."
On hearing this most welcome assurance, I turned all the forces of my soul and body to God, fervently offering up thanks to Him. At the same moment I approached the Duke, and almost weeping for gladness, kissed his robe. Then I added: "O my glorious prince, true and most generous lover of the arts, and of those who exercise them! I entreat your most illustrious Excellency to allow me eight days first to go and return thanks to God; for I alone know what travail I have endured, and that my earnest faith has moved Him to assist me. In gratitude for this and all other marvellous mercies, I should like to travel eight days on pilgrimage, continually thanking my immortal God, who never fails to help those who call upon Him with sincerity." The Duke then asked me where I wished to go. I answered: "To-morrow I shall set out for Vallombrosa, thence to Camaldoli and the Ermo, afterwards I shall proceed to the Bagni di Santa Maria, and perhaps so far as Sestile, because I hear of fine antiquities to be seen there. Then I shall retrace my steps by San Francesco della Vernia, and, still with thanks to God, return light-hearted to your service." The Duke replied at once with cheerful kindness: "Go and come back again, for of a truth you please me; but do not forget to send a couple of lines by way of memorandum, and leave the rest to me.
I wrote four lines that very day, in which I thanked his Excellency for expected favours, and gave these to Messer Sforza, who placed them in the Duke's hands. The latter took them, and then handed them to Messer Sforza, remarking: "See that you put these lines each day where I can see them; for if Benvenuto comes back and finds I have not despatched his business, I think that he will murderme." Thus laughing, his Excellency asked to be reminded. Messer Sforza reported these precise words to me on the same evening, laughing too and expressing wonder at the great favour shown me by the Duke. He pleasantly added: "Go, Benvenuto, and come again quickly, for indeed I am jealous of you."
In God's name then I left Florence, continually singing psalms and prayers in His honour upon all that journey. I enjoyed it extremely; for the season was fine, in early summer, and the country through which I travelled, and which I had never seen before, struck me as marvellously beautiful. Now I had taken with me to serve as guide a young workman in my employ, who came from Bagno, and was called Cesare. Thanks to him, then, I received the kindest hospitality from his father and all his family, among whom was an old man of more than seventy, extremely pleasant in his conversation. He was Cesare's uncle, a surgeon by profession, and a dabbler in alchemy. This excellent person made me observe that the Bagni contained mines of gold and silver, and showed me many interesting objects in the neighbourhood; so that I enjoyed myself as much as I have ever done.
One day, when we had become intimate and he could trust me, he spoke as follows: "I must not omit to tell you a thought of mine, to which his Excellency might with advantage pay attention. It is, that not far from Camaldoli there lies a mountain pass so ill defended, that Piero Strozzi could not only cross it without risk, but might also seize on Poppi unmolested." Not satisfied with this description, he also took a sheet of paper from his pouch, upon which the good old man had drawn the whole country, so that the seriousness of the danger could be manifest upon inspection of the map. I took the design and left Bagno at once, travelling homeward as fast as I could by Prato Magno and San Francesco della Vernia. On reaching Florence, I only stopped to draw off my riding-boots, and hurried to the palace. Just opposite the Badia I met the Duke, who was coming by the palace of the Podesta. When he saw me he gave me a very gracious reception, and showing some surprise, exclaimed: "Why have you come back so quickly; I did not expect you for eight days at least." I answered: "The service of your most illustrious Excellency brings me back, else I should very willingly have stayed some few days longer on my journey through that lovely country." "Well, and what good news have you?" said he. I answered:
"Prince, I must talk to you about things of the greatest importance which I have to disclose." So I followed him to the palace, and when we were there, he took me privately into a chamber where we stayed awhile alone together. I then unfolded the whole matter and showed him the little map, with which he seemed to be much gratified. When I told his Excellency that one ought to take measures at once, he reflected for a little while and then said: "I may inform you that we have agreed with the Duke of Urbino that he should guard the pass; but do not speak about it." Then he dismissed me with great demonstrations of good-will, and I went home.
Next day I presented myself, and, after a few words of conversation, the Duke addressed me cheerfully:
"To-morrow, without fail, I mean to despatch your business; set your mind at rest, then." I, who felt sure that he meant what he said, waited with great impatience for the morrow. When the longed-for day arrived, I betook me to the palace; and as it always happens that evil tidings travel faster than good news, Messer Giacopo Guidi, secretary to his Excellency, called me with his wry mouth and haughty voice; drawing himself up as stiff as a poker, he began to speak to this effect: "The Duke says he wants you to tell him how much you ask for your Perseus." I remained dumbfounded and astonished; yet I quickly replied that it was not my custom to put prices on my work, and that this was not what his Excellency had promised me two days ago. The man raised his voice, and ordered me expressly in the Duke's name, under the penalty of his severe displeasure, to say how much I wanted. Now I had hoped not only to gain some handsome reward, trusting to the mighty signs of kindness shown me by the Duke, but I had still more expected to secure the entire good graces of his Excellency, seeing I never asked for anything, but only for his favour. Accordingly, this wholly unexpected way of dealing with me put me in a fury, and I was especially enraged by the manner which that venomous toad assumed in discharging his commission. I exclaimed that if the Duke gave me ten thousand crowns I should not be paid enough, and that if I had ever thought things would come to this haggling, I should not have settled in his service. Thereupon the surly fellow began to abuse me, and I gave it him back again.
Upon the following day, when I paid my respects to the Duke, he beckoned to me. I approached, and he exclaimed in anger: "Cities and great palaces are built with ten thousands of ducats." I rejoined: "Your Excellency can find multitudes of men who are able to build you cities and palaces, but you will not, perhaps, find one man in the world who could make a second Perseus." Then I took my leave without saying or doing anything farther. A few days afterwards the Duchess sent for me, and advised me to put my difference with the Duke into her hands, since she thought she could conduct the business to my satisfaction. On hearing these kindly words I replied that I had never asked any other recompense for my labours than the good graces of the Duke, and that his most illustrious Excellency had assured me of this; it was not needful that I should place in their Excellencies' hands what I had always frankly left to them from the first days when I undertook their service. I farther added that if his most illustrious Excellency gave me but a crazia, which is worth five farthings, for my work, I should consider myself contented, provided only that his Excellency did not deprive me of his favour. At these words the Duchess smiled a little and said: "Benvenuto, you would do well to act as I advise you." Then she turned her back and left me. I thought it was my best policy to speak with the humility I have above described; yet it turned out that I had done the worst for myself, because, albeit she had harboured some angry feelings toward me, she had in her a certain way of dealing which was generous.
About that time I was very intimate with Girolamo degli Albizzi, commissary of the Duke's militia. One day this friend said to me: "O Benvenuto, it would not be a bad thing to put your little difference of opinion with the Duke to rights; and I assure you that if you repose confidence in me, I feel myself the man to settle matters. I know what I am saying. The Duke is getting really angry, and you will come badly out of the affair. Let this suffice; I am not at liberty to say all I know." Now, subsequently to that conversation with the Duchess, I had been told by some one, possibly a rogue, that he had heard how the Duke said upon some occasion which offered itself: "For less than two farthings I will throw Perseus to the dogs, and so our differences will be ended." This, then, made me anxious, and induced me to en trust Girolamo degli Albizzi with the negotiations, telling him anything would satisfy me provided I retained the good graces of the Duke. That honest fellow was excellent in all his dealings with soldiers, especially with the militia, who are for the most part rustics; but he had no taste for statuary, and therefore could not understand its conditions. Consequently, when he spoke to the Duke, he began thus: "Prince, Benvenuto has placed himself in my hands, and has begged me to recommend him to your Excellency. "The Duke replied: "I too am willing to refer myself to you, and shall be satisfied with your decision." Thereupon Girolamo composed a letter, with much skill and greatly to my honour, fixing the sum which the Duke would have to pay me at 3500 golden crowns in gold; and this should not be taken as my proper recompense for such a masterpiece, but only as a kind of gratuity; enough to say that I was satisfied; with many other phrases of like tenor, all of which implied the price which I have mentioned.
The Duke signed this agreement as gladly as I took it sadly. When the Duchess heard, she said: "It would have been better for that poor man if he had placed himself in my hands; I could have got him five thousand crowns in gold." One day, when I went to the palace, she repeated these same words to me in the presence of Messer Alamanno Salviati, and laughed at me a little, saying that I deserved my bad luck.
The Duke gave orders that I should be paid a hundred golden crowns in gold per month, until the sum was discharged; and thus it ran for some months. Afterwards, Messer Antonio de' Nobili, who had to transact the business, began to give me fifty, and sometimes later on he gave me twenty-five, and sometimes nothing. Accordingly, when I saw that the settlement was being thus deferred, I spoke good-humouredly to Messer Antonio, and begged him to explain why he did not complete my payments. He answered in a like tone of politeness; yet it struck me that he exposed his own mind too much. Let the reader judge. He began by saying that the sole reason why he could not go forward regularly with these payments, was the scarcity of money at the palace; but he promised, when cash came in, to discharge arrears. Then he added: "Oh heavens! if I did not pay you, I should be an utter rogue." I was somewhat surprised to hear him speak in that way; yet I resolved to hope that he would pay me when he had the power to do so. But when I observed that things went quite the contrary way, and saw that I was being pillaged, I lost temper with the man, and recalled to his memory hotly and in anger what he had declared he would be if he did not pay me. However, he died; and five hundred crowns are still owing to me at the present date,which is nigh upon the end of 1566. There was also a balance due upon my salary, which I thought would be forgotten, since three years had elapsed without payment. But it so happened that the Duke fell ill of a serious malady, remaining forty-eight hours without passing water. Finding that the remedies of his physicians availed nothing, it is probable that he betook himself to God, and therefore decreed the discharge of all debts to his servants. I too was paid on this occasion, yet I never obtained what still stood out upon my Perseus.
I had almost determined to say nothing more about that unlucky Perseus; but a most remarkable incident, which I do not like to omit, obliges me to do so; wherefore I must now turn back a bit, to gather up the thread of my narration. I thought I was acting for the best when I told the Duchess that I could not compromise affairs which were no longer in my hands, seeing I had informed the Duke that I should gladly accept whatever he chose to give me. I said this in the hope of gaining favour; and with this manifestation of submissiveness I employed every likely means of pacifying his resentment; for I ought to add that a few days before he came to terms with Albizzi, the Duke had shown he was excessively displeased with me. The reason was as follows: I complained of some abominable a<5ts of injustice done to me by Messer Alfonso Quistelli, Messer Jacopo Polverino of the Exchequer, and more than all by Ser Giovanbattista Brandini of Volterra. When, therefore, I set forth my cause with some vehemence, the Duke flew into the greatest rage conceivable. Being thus in anger, he exclaimed: "This is just the same as with your Perseus, when you asked those ten thousand crowns. You let yourself be blinded by mere cupidity. Therefore I shall have the statue valued, and shall give you what the experts think it worth." To these words I replied with too much daring and a touch of indignation, which is always out of place in dealing with great princes: "How is it possible that my work should be valued at its proper worth when there is not a man in Florence capable of performing it? "That increased his irritation; he uttered many furious phrases, and among them said: "There is in Florence at this day a man well able to make such a statue, and who is therefore highly capable of judging it." He meant Bandinello, Cavaliere of S. Jacopo. Then I rejoined: "My lord, your most illustrious Excellency gave me the means of producing an important and very difficult masterpiece in the midst of this the noblest school of the world; and my work has been received with warmer praises than any other heretofore exposed before the gaze of our incomparable masters. My chief pride is the commendation of those able men who both understand and practise the arts of design —as in particular Bronzino,the painter; this man set himself to work, and composed four sonnets couched in the choicest style, and full of honour to myself. Perhaps it was his example which moved the whole city to such a tumult of enthusiasm. I freely admit that if sculpture were his business instead of painting, then Bronzino might have been equal to a task like mine. Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, again, whom I am proud to call my master; he, I admit, could have achieved the same success when he was young, but not with less fatigue and trouble than I endured. But now that he is far advanced in years, he would most certainly be found unequal to the strain. Therefore I think I am justified in saying that no man known upon this earth could have produced my Perseus. For the rest, my work has received the greatest reward I could have wished for in this world; chiefly and especially because your most illustrious Excellency not only expressed yourself satisfied, but praised it far more highly than any one beside. What greater and more honourable prize could be desired by me? I affirm most emphatically that your Excellency could not pay me with more glorious coin, nor add from any treasury a wealth surpassing this. Therefore I hold myself overpaid already, and return thanks to your most illustrious Excellency with all my heart." The Duke made answer: "Probably you think I have not the money to pay you. For my part, I promise you that I shall pay you more for the statue than it is worth." Then I retorted: "I did not picture to my fancy any better recompense from your Excellency; yet I account myself amply remunerated by that first reward which the school of Florence gave me. With this to console me, I shall take my departure on the instant, without returning to the house you gave me, and shall never seek to set my foot in this town again." We were just at S. Felicita, and his Excellency was proceeding to the palace. When he heard these choleric words, he turned upon me in stern anger and exclaimed: "You shall not go; take heed you do not go!" Half terrified, I then followed him to the palace.On arriving there, his Excellency sent for the Archbishop of Pisa, named De' Bartolini, and Messer Pandolfo della Stufa,requesting them to order Baccio Bandinelli, in his name, to examine well my Perseus and value it, since he wished to pay its exact price. These excellent men went forthwith and performed their embassy. In reply Bandinello said that he had examined the statue minutely, and knew well enough
what it was worth; but having been on bad terms otherwise with me for some time past, he did not care to be entangled anyhow in my affairs. Then they began to put a gentle pressure on him, saying: "The Duke ordered us to tell you, under pain of his displeasure, that you are to value the statue, and you may have two or three days to consider your estimate. When you have done so, tell us at what price it ought to be paid." He answered that his judgment was already formed, that he could not disobey the Duke, and that my work was rich and beautiful and excellent in execution; therefore he thought sixteen thousand crowns or more would not be an excessive price for it. Those good and courteous gentlemen reported this to the Duke, who was mightily enraged; they also told the same to me. I replied that nothing in the world would induce me to take praise from Bandinello, "seeing that this bad man speaks ill of everybody." My words were carried to the Duke; and that was the reason why the Duchess wanted me to place the matter in her hands. All that I have written is the pure truth. I will only add that I ought to have trusted to her intervention, for then I should have been quickly paid, and should have received so much more into the bargain.
The Duke sent me word by Messer Lelio Torello, his Master of the Rolls, that he wanted me to execute some bas-reliefs in bronze for the choir of S. Maria del Fiore. Now the choir was by Bandinello, and I did not choose to enrich his bad work with my labours. He had not indeed designed it, for he understood nothing whatever about architecture; the design was given by Giuliano, the son of that Baccio d'Agnolo, the wood-carver, who spoiled the cupola. Suffice it to say that it shows no talent. For both reasons I was determined not to undertake the task, although I told the Duke politely that I would do whatever his most illustrious Excellency ordered. Accordingly, he put the matter into the hands of the Board of Works for S. Maria del Fiore, telling them to come to an agreement with me; he would continue my allowance of two hundred crowns a year, while they were to supply the rest out of their funds.
In due course I came before the Board, and they told me what the Duke had arranged. Feeling that I could explain my views more frankly to these gentlemen, I began by demonstrating that so many histories in bronze would cost a vast amount of money, which would be totally thrown away, giving all my reasons, which they fully appreciated. In the first place, I said that the construction of the choir was altogether incorrect, without proportion, art, convenience, grace, or good design. In the next place, the bas-reliefs would have to stand too low, beneath the proper line of vision; they would become a place for dogs to piss at, and be always full of ordure. Consequently, I declined positively to execute them. However, since I did not wish to throw away the best years of my life, and was eager to serve his most illustrious Excellency, whom I had the sincerest desire to gratify and obey, I made the following proposal. Let the Duke, if he wants to employ my talents, give me the middle door of the cathedral to perform in bronze. This would be well seen, and would confer far more glory on his most illustrious Excellency. I would bind myself by contract to receive no remuneration unless I produced something better than the finest of the Baptistery doors. But if I completed it according to my promise, then I was willing to have it valued, and to be paid one thousand crowns less than the estimate made by experts.
The members of the Board were well pleased with this suggestion, and went at once to report the matter to the Duke, among them being Piero Salviati. They expected him to be extremely gratified with their communication, but it turned out just the contrary. He replied that I was always wanting to do the exact opposite of what he bade me; and so Piero left him without coming to any conclusion. On hearing this, I went off to the Duke at once, who displayed some irritation when he saw me. However, I begged him to condescend to hear me, and he replied that he was willing. I then began from the beginning, and used such convincing arguments that he saw at last how the matter really stood, since I made it evident that he would only be throwing a large sum of money away. Then I softened his temper by suggesting that if his most illustrious Excellency did not care to have the door begun, two pulpits had anyhow to be made for the choir, and that these would both of them be considerable works, which would confer glory on his reign; for my part, I was ready to execute a great number of bronze bas-reliefs with appropriate decorations. In this way I brought him round, and he gave me orders to construct the models.
Accordingly I set at work on several models, and bestowed immense pains on them. Among these there was one with eight panels, carried out with far more science than the rest, and which seemed to me more fitted for the purpose. Having taken them several times to the palace, his Excellency sent word by Messer Cesare, the keeper of his wardrobe, that I should leave them there. After the Duke had inspected them, I perceived that he had selected the least beautiful. One day he sent for me, and during our conversation about the models, I gave many reasons why the octagonal pulpit would be far more convenient for its destined uses, and would produce a much finer effect. He answered that he wished me to make it square, because he liked that form better; and thus he went on conversing for some time very pleasantly. I meanwhile lost no opportunity of saying everything I could in the interests of art. Now whether the Duke knew that I had spoken the truth, or whether he wanted to have his own way, a long time passed before I heard anything more about it.
About this time the great block of marble arrived which was intended for the Neptune. It had been brought up the Arno, and then by the Grieve to the road at Poggio a Caiano, in order to be carried to Florence by that level way; and there I went to see it. Now I knew very well that the Duchess by her special influence had managed to have it given to Bandinello. No envy prompted me to dispute his claims, but rather pity for that poor unfortunate piece of marble. Observe, by the way, that every thing, whatever it may be, which is subject to an evil destiny, although one tries to save it from some manifest evil, falls at once into far worse plight; as happened to this marble when it came into the hands of Bartolommeo Ammanato, of whom I shall speak the truth in its proper place. After inspecting this most splendid block, I measured it in every direction, and on returning to Florence, made several little models suited to its proportions. Then I went to Poggio a Caiano, where the Duke and Duchess were staying, with their son the Prince. I found them all at table, the Duke and Duchess dining in a private apartment; so I entered into conversation with the Prince. We had been speaking for a long while, when the Duke, who was in a room adjacent, heard my voice, and condescended very graciously to send for me. When I presented myself before their Excellencies, the Duchess addressed me in a very pleasant tone; and having thus opened the conversation, I gradually introduced the subject of that noble block of marble I had seen. I then proceeded to remark that their ancestors had brought the magnificent school of Florence to such a pitch of excellence only by stimulating competition among artists in their several branches. It was thus that the wonderful cupola and the lovely doors of San Giovanni had been produced, together with those multitudes of handsome edifices and statues which made a crown of artistic glory for their city above anything the world had seen since the days of the ancients. Upon this the Duchess, with some anger, observed that she very well knew what I meant, and bade me never mention that block of marble in her presence, since she did not like it. I replied: "So, then, you do not like me to act as the attorney of your Excellencies, and to do my utmost to ensure your being better served? Reflect upon it, my lady; if your most illustrious Excellencies think fit to open the model for a Neptune to competition, although you are resolved to give it to Bandinello, this will urge Bandinello for his own credit to display greater art and science than if he knew he had no rivals. In this way, my princes, you will be far better served, and will not discourage our school of artists; you will be able to perceive which of us is eager to excel in the grand style of our noble calling, and will show yourselves princes who enjoy and understand the fine arts." The Duchess, in a great rage, told me that I tired her patience out; she wanted the marble for Bandinello, adding: "Ask the Duke; for his Excellency also means Bandinello to have it." When the Duchess had spoken, the Duke, who had kept silence up to this time, said: "Twenty years ago I had that fine block quarried especially for Bandinello, and so I mean that Bandinello shall have it to do what he likes with it." I turned to the Duke and spoke as follows: "My lord, I entreat your most illustrious Excellency to lend a patient hearing while I speak four words in your service." He told me to say all I wanted, and that he would listen. Then I began: "You will remember, my lord, that the marble which Bandinello used for his Hercules and Cacus was quarried for our incomparable Michel Agnolo Buonarroti. He had made the model for a Samson with four figures, which would have been the finest masterpiece in the whole world; but your Bandinello got out of it only two figures, both ill-executed and bungled in the worst manner; wherefore our school still exclaims against the great wrong which was done to that magnificent block. I believe that more than a thousand sonnets were put up in abuse of that detestable performance; and I know that your most illustrious Excellency remembers the fact very well. Therefore, my powerful prince, seeing how the men to whose care that work was entrusted, in their want of taste and wisdom, took Michel Agnolo's marble away from him, and gave it to Bandinello, who spoilt it in the way the whole world knows, oh! will you suffer this far more splendid block, although it belongs to Bandinello, to remain in the hands of that man who cannot help mangling it, instead of giving it to some artist of talent capable of doing it full justice? Arrange, my lord, that everyone who likes shall make a model; have them all exhibited to the school; you then will hear what the school thinks; your own good judgment will enable you to select the best; in this way, finally, you will not throw away your money, nor discourage a band of artists the like of whom is not to be found at present in the world, and who form the glory of your most illustrious Excellency."
The Duke listened with the utmost graciousness; then he rose from table, and turning to me, said: "Go, my Benvenuto, make a model, and earn that fine marble for yourself; for what you say is the truth, and I acknowledge it." The Duchess tossed her head defiantly, and muttered I know not what angry sentences. I made them a respectful bow and returned to Florence, burning with eagerness to set hands upon my model.
When the Duke came to Florence, he sought me at my house without giving me previous notice. I showed him two little models of different design. Though he praised them both, he said that one of them pleased him better than the other; I was to finish the one he liked with care; and this would be to my advantage. Now his Excellency had already seen Bandinello's designs, and those of other sculptors; but, as I was informed by many of his courtiers who had heard him, he commended mine far above the rest. Among other matters worthy of record and of great weight upon this point, I will mention the following. The Cardinal of Santa Fiore was on a visit to Florence, and the Duke took him to Poggio a Caiano. Upon the road noticing the marble as he passed, the Cardinal praised it highly, inquiring of his Excellency for what sculptor he intended it. The Duke replied at once: "For my friend Benvenuto,who has made a splendid model with a view to it." This was reported to me by men whom I could trust.
Hearing what the Duke had said, I went to the Duchess, and took her some small bits of goldsmith's work, which greatly pleased her Excellency. Then she asked what I was doing, and I replied: "My lady, I have taken in hand for my pleasure one of the most laborious pieces which have ever been produced. It is a Christ of the whitest marble set upon a cross of the blackest, exactly of the same size as a tall man."
She immediately inquired what I meant to do with it. I answered: "You must know, my lady, that I would not sell it for two thousand golden ducats; it is of such difficult execution that I think no man ever attempted the like before; nor would I have undertaken it at the commission of any prince whatever, for fear I might prove inadequate to the task. I bought the marbles with my own money, and have kept a young man some two years as my assistant in the work. What with the stone, the iron frame to hold it up, and the wages, it has cost me above three hundred crowns. Consequently, I would not sell it for two thousand. But if your Excellency deigns to grant me a favour which is wholly blameless, I shall be delighted to make you a present of it. All I ask is that your Excellency will not use your influence either against or for the models which the Duke has ordered to be made of the Neptune for that great block of marble." She replied with mighty indignation: "So then you value neither my help nor my opposition?" "On the contrary, I value them highly, princess; or why am I offering to give you what I value at two thousand ducats? But I have such confidence in my laborious and well-trained studies, that I hope to win the palm, even against the great Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, from whom and from no one else I have learned all that I know. Indeed, I should be much better pleased to enter into competition with him who knows so much than with those others who know but little of their art. Contending with my sublime master, I could gain laurels in plenty, whereas there are but few to be reaped in a contest with these men/' After I had spoken, she rose in a half-angry mood, and I returned to work with all the strength I had upon my model.
When it was finished, the Duke came to see it, bringing with him two ambassadors, one from the Duke of Ferrara,the other from the Signory of Lucca. They were delighted, and the Duke said to those two gentlemen: "Upon my word, Benvenuto deserves to have the marble." Then they both paid me the highest compliments, especially the envoy from Lucca, who was a person of accomplishments and learning. I had retired to some distance in order that they might exchange opinions freely; but when I heard that I was being complimented, I came up, turned to the Duke, and said: "My lord, your most illustrious Excellency ought now to employ another admirable device: decree that every one who likes shall make a model in clay, exactly of the same size as the marble has to be. In this way you will be able to judge far better who deserves the commission; and I may observe that if your Excellency does not give it to the sculptor who deserves it, this will not wrong the man so much, but will reflect great discredit upon yourself, since the loss and shame will fall on you. On the other hand, if you award it to the one who has deserved it, you will acquire great glory in the first place, and will employ your treasure well, while artists will believe that you appreciate and understand their business/' No sooner had I finished speaking than the Duke shrugged his shoulders, and began to move away. While they were taking leave, the ambassador of Lucca said to the Duke: "Prince, this Benvenuto of yours is a terrible man!" The Duke responded:
"He is much more terrible than you imagine, and well were it for him if he were a little less terrible; then he would possess at the present moment many things which he has not got." These precise words were reported to me by the envoy, by way of chiding and advising me to change my conduct. I told him that I had the greatest wish to oblige my lord as his affectionate and faithful servant, but that I did not understand the arts of flattery. Several months after this date, Bandinello died; and it was thought that, in addition to his intemperate habits of life, the mortification of having probably to lose the marble contributed to his decline.
- The Prince was Don Francesco, then aged twelve; Don Giovanni was ten, Don Garzia was six, and Don Ferdinando four.
- That is, the Loggia de' Lanzi, on the great piazza of Florence, where Cellini's statue still stands.
- If I understand the obscure lines of the original, Cellini wanted to kill tivo birds with one stone by this epigram—both Bernardone and his son Baccio. But by Buaccio he generally means Baccio Bandinelli.
- To bite the thumb at any one was, as students of our old drama know, a sign of challenge or provocation.
- Jacopo Carrucci da Pontormo was now an old man. He died in 1558, aged sixty-five years. Angelo Allori, called Il Bronzino, one of the last fairly good Florentine painters, won considerable distinction as a writer of burlesque poems. He died in 1571, aged sixty-nine years. Repossess his sonnets on the Perseus.
- April 27, 1554.
- Don Juan de Vega.
- Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli entered the Order of the Servites in 1530. This did not prevent him from plying his profession of sculptor. The 'work above alluded to is the fountain at Messina.
- The Ermo is more correctly Eremo, and Vernia is Alvernia.
- A village in the Castenino. Piero Strozzi was at this time in Valdichiana.
- It appears from a letter written by Guidi to Bandinelli that he hated Cellini, whom he called pessimo mostro di natura, Guidi was made Bishop of Penna in 1561, and attended the Council of Trent.
- A small Tuscan coin.
- A warm partisan of the Medici. He was a cousin of Maria Salviati, Cosimo's mother. It was rumoured that he caused the historian Francesco Guicciardinis death by poison. We find him godfather to one of Cellini's children.
- This Salviati and the De' Nobili mentioned afterwards occupied a distinguished place in Florentine annals as partisans of the Medici.
- Cellini began to write his Memoirs in 1558. Eight years had therefore now elapsed.
- Bandinelli was a Knight of S. James of Compostella.
- Onofrio de' Bartolini was made Archbishop of Pisa in 1518, at the age of about seventeen. He was a devoted adherent of the Medici. He was shut up with Clement in S. Angelo, and sent as hostage to the Imperial army. Pandolfo della Stufa had been cup-bearer to Caterina de' Medici while Dauphiness.
- A native of Fano. Cosimo's Auditore, 1539; first Secretary or Grand Chancellor. 1546. He was a great jurist.
- Suo auditore.
- It was Baccio d'Agnolo who altered Brunelleschi's plan for the cupola. Buonarroti used to say that he made it look like a cage for crickets. His work remained nfinished.
- Operai di S. Maria del Fiore.
- He means Ghiberti's second door, in all probability.
- Instead of the Grieve, which is not a navigable stream, it appears that Cellini ought to have written the Ombrone.
- This sculptor was born in 1511, and died in 1592. He worked under Bandinelli and Sansovino.
- Probably Girolamo Lucchesini.
- See Introduction, ch. iv.,for the meaning of the word terribile.