The Life of Benvenuto Cellini/Sections LXXXIII to XCII


When I returned to bed, I felt so agitated that I could not get to sleep again. My mind was made up to let blood as soon as day broke. However, I asked advice of Messer Gaddi, and he referred to a wretched doctor-fellow he employed,[1] who asked me if I had been frightened. Now, just consider what a judicious doctor this was, after I had narrated an occurrence of that gravity, to ask me such a question! He was an empty fribbler, who kept perpetually laughing about nothing at all. Simpering and sniggering, then, he bade me drink a good cup of Greek wine, keep my spirits up, and not be frightened. Messer Giovanni, however, said: "Master, a man of bronze or marble might be frightened in such circumstances. How much more one of flesh and blood!" The quack responded: "Monsignor, we are not all made after the same pattern; this fellow is no man of bronze or marble, but of pure iron." Then he gave one of his meaningless laughs, and putting his fingers on my wrist, said: "Feel here; this is not a man's pulse, but a lion's or a dragon's." At this, I, whose blood was thumping in my veins, probably far beyond anything which that fool of a doctor had learned from his Hippocrates or Galen, knew at once how serious was my situation; yet, wishing not to add to my uneasiness and to the harm I had already taken, I made show of being in good spirits. While this was happening, Messer Giovanni had ordered dinner, and we all of us sat down to eat in company. I remembered that Messer Lodovico da Fano, Messer Antonio Allegretti, Messer Giovanni Greco, all of them men of the finest scholarship, and Messer Annibal Caro, who was then quite young, were present. At table the conversation turned entirely upon my act of daring. They insisted on hearing the whole story over and over again from my apprentice Cencio, who was a youth of superlative talent, bravery, and extreme personal beauty. Each time that he described my truculent behaviour, throwing himself into the attitudes I had assumed, and repeating the words which I had used, he called up some fresh detail to my memory. They kept asking him if he had been afraid; to which he answered that they ought to ask me if I had been afraid, because he felt precisely the same as I had.

All this chattering grew irksome to me; and since I still felt strongly agitated, I rose at last from table, saying that I wanted to go and get new clothes of blue silk and stuff for him and me; adding that I meant to walk in procession after four days at the feast of Our Lady, and meant Cencio to carry a white lighted torch on the occasion. Accordingly I took my leave, and had the blue cloth cut, together with a handsome jacket of blue sarcenet and a little doublet of the same; and I had a similar jacket and waistcoat made for Cencio.

When these things had been cut out, I went to see the Pope, who told me to speak with Messer Ambruogio; for he had given orders that I should execute a large piece of golden plate. So I went to find Messer Ambruogio, who had heard the whole of the affair of the Bargello, and had been in concert with my enemies to bring me back to Rome, and had scolded the Bargello for not laying hands on me. The man excused himself by saying that he could not do so in the face of the safe-conduct which I held. Messer Ambruogio now began to talk about the Pope's commission, and bade me make drawings for it, saying that the business should be put at once in train. Meanwhile the feast of Our Lady came round. Now it is the custom for those who get a pardon upon this occasion to give themselves up to prison; in order to avoid doing which I returned to the Pope, and told his Holiness that I was very unwilling to go to prison, and that I begged him to grant me the favour of a dispensation. The Pope answered that such was the custom, and that I must follow it. Thereupon I fell again upon my knees, and thanked him for the safe-conduct he had given me, saying at the same time that I should go back with it to serve my Duke in Florence, who was waiting for me so impatiently. On hearing this, the Pope turned to one of his confidential servants and said: "Let Benvenuto get his grace without the prison, and see that his moto proprio is made out in due form." As soon as the document had been drawn up, his Holiness signed it; it was then registered at the Capitol; afterwards, upon the day appointed, I walked in procession very honourably between two gentlemen, and so got clear at last.


Four days had passed when I was attacked with violent fever attended by extreme cold; and taking to my bed, I made my mind up that I was sure to die. I had the first doctors of Rome called in, among whom was Francesco da Norcia, a physician of great age, and of the best repute in Rome.[2] I told them what I believed to be the cause of my illness, and said that I had wished to let blood, but that I had been advised against it; and if it was not too late, I begged them to bleed me now. Maestro Francesco answered that it would not be well for me to let blood then, but that if I had done so before, I should have escaped without mischief; at present they would have to treat the case with other remedies. So they began to doctor me as energetically as they were able, while I grew daily worse and worse so rapidly, that after eight days the physicians despaired of my life, and said that I might be indulged in any whim I had to make me comfortable. Maestro Francesco added: "As long as there is breath in him, call me at all hours; for no one can divine what Nature is able to work in a young man of this kind; moreover, if he should lose consciousness, administer these five remedies one after the other, and send for me, for I will come at any hour of the night; I would rather save him than any of the cardinals in Rome."

Every day Messer Giovanni Gaddi came to see me two or three times, and each time he took up one or other of my handsome fowling-pieces, coats of mail, or swords, using words like these: "That is a handsome thing, that other is still handsomer;" and likewise with my models and other trifles, so that at last he drove me wild with annoyance. In his company came a certain Mattio Franzesi;[3] and this man also appeared to be waiting impatiently for my death, not indeed because he would inherit anything from me, but because he wished for what his master seemed to have so much at heart.

Felice, my partner, was always at my side, rendering the greatest services which it is possible for one man to give another. Nature in me was utterly debilitated and undone; I had not strength enough to fetch my breath back if it left me; and yet my brain remained as clear and strong as it had been before my illness. Nevertheless, although I kept my consciousness, a terrible old man used to come to my bedside, and make as though he would drag me by force into a huge boat he had with him. This made me call out to my Felice to draw near and chase that malignant old man away. Felice, who loved me most affectionately, ran weeping and crying: "Away with you, old traitor; you are robbing me of all the good I have in this world." Messer Giovanni Gaddi, who was present, then began to say: "The poor fellow is delirious, and has only a few hours to live." His fellow, Mattio Franzesi, remarked: "He has read Dante, and in the prostration of his sickness this apparition has appeared to him;"[4] then he added laughingly: "Away with you, old rascal, and don't bother our friend Benvenuto." When I saw that they were making fun of me, I turned to Messer Gaddi and said: "My dear master, know that I am not raving, and that it is true that this old man is really giving me annoyance; but the best that you can do for me would be to drive that miserable Mattio from my side, who is laughing at my affliction; afterwards if your lordship deigns to visit me again, let me beg you to come with Messer Antonio Allegretti, or with Messer Annibal Caro, or with some other of your accomplished friends, who are persons of quite different intelligence and discretion from that beast." Thereupon Messer Giovanni told Mattio in jest to take himself out of his sight forever; but because Mattio went on laughing, the joke turned to earnest, for Messer Giovanni would not look upon him again, but sent for Messer Antonio Allegretti, Messer Ludovico, and Messer Annibal Caro. On the arrival of these worthy men, I was greatly comforted, and talked reasonably with them awhile, not however without frequently urging Felice to drive the old man away. Messer Ludovico asked me what it was I seemed to see, and how the man was shaped. While I portrayed him accurately in words, the old man took me by the arm and dragged me violently towards him. This made me cry out for aid, because he was going to fling me under hatches in his hideous boat. On saying that last word, I fell into a terrible swoon, and seemed to be sinking down into the boat. They say that during that fainting-fit I flung myself about and cast bad words at Messer Giovanni Gaddi, to wit, that he came to rob me, and not from any motive of charity, and other insults of the kind, which caused him to be much ashamed. Later on, they say I lay still like one dead; and after waiting by me more than an hour, thinking I was growing cold, they left me for dead. When they returned home, Mattio Franzesi was informed, who wrote to Florence to Messer Benedetto Varchi, my very dear friend, that they had seen me die at such and such an hour of the night. When he heard the news, that most accomplished man and my dear friend composed an admirable sonnet upon my supposed but not real death, which shall be reported in its proper place.

More than three long hours passed, and yet I did not regain consciousness. Felice having used all the remedies prescribed by Maestro Francesco, and seeing that I did not come to, ran post-haste to the physician's door, and knocked so loudly that he woke him up, and made him rise, and begged him with tears to come to the house, for he thought that I was dead. Whereto Maestro Francesco, who was a very choleric man, replied: "My son, of what use do you think I should be if I came? If he is dead, I am more sorry than you are. Do you imagine that if I were to come with my medicine I could blow breath up through his guts[5] and bring him back to life for you?" But when he saw that the poor young fellow was going away weeping, he called him back and gave him an oil with which to anoint my pulses and my heart, telling him to pinch my little fingers and toes very tightly, and to send at once to call him if I should revive. Felice took his way, and did as Maestro Francesco had ordered. It was almost bright day when, thinking they would have to abandon hope, they gave orders to have my shroud made and to wash me. Suddenly I regained consciousness, and called out to Felice to drive away the old man on the moment, who kept tormenting me. He wanted to send for Maestro Francesco, but I told him not to do so, but to come close up to me, because that old man was afraid of him and went away at once. So Felice drew near to the bed; I touched him, and it seemed to me that the infuriated old man withdrew; so I prayed him not to leave me for a second. When Maestro Francesco appeared, he said it was his dearest wish to save my life, and that he had never in all his days seen greater force in a young man than I had. Then he sat down to write, and prescribed for me perfumes, lotions, unctions, plasters, and a heap of other precious things. Meanwhile I came to life again by the means of more than twenty leeches applied to my buttocks, but with my body bored through, bound, and ground to powder. Many of my friends crowded in to behold the miracle of the resuscitated dead man, and among them people of the first importance.

In their presence I declared that the small amount of gold and money I possessed, perhaps some eight hundred crowns, what with gold, silver, jewels, and cash, should be given by my will to my poor sister in Florence, called Mona Liperata; all the remainder of my property, armour and everything besides, I left to my dearest Felice, together with fifty golden ducats, in order that he might buy mourning. At those words Felice flung his arms around my neck, protesting that he wanted nothing but to have me as he wished alive with him. Then I said: "If you want me alive, touch me as you did before, and threaten the old man, for he is afraid of you." At these words some of the folk were terrified, knowing that I was not raving, but talking to the purpose and with all my wits. Thus my wretched malady went dragging on, and I got but little better. Maestro Francesco, that most excellent man, came four or five times a day; Messer Giovanni Gaddi, who felt ashamed, did not visit me again. My brother-in-law, the husband of my sister, arrived; he came from Florence for the inheritance; but as he was a very worthy man, he rejoiced exceedingly to have found me alive. The sight of him did me a world of good, and he began to caress me at once, saying he had only come to take care of me in person; and this he did for several days. Afterwards I sent him away, having almost certain hope of my recovery. On this occasion he left the sonnet of Messer Benedetto Varchi, which runs as follows:[6]

"Who shall, Mattio, yield our pain relief?
Who shall forbid the sad expense of tears?
Alas! 'tis true that in his youthful years
Our friend hath flown, and left us here to grief.

He hath gone up to heaven, who was the chief
Of men renowned in art's immortal spheres;
Among the mighty dead he had no peers.
Nor shall earth see his like, in my belief.

O gentle sprite! if love still sway the blest,
Look down on him thou here didst love, and view
These tears that mourn my loss, not thy great good.

There dost thou gaze on His beatitude
Who made our universe, and findest true
The form of Him thy skill for men expressed."


My sickness had been of such a very serious nature that it seemed impossible for me to fling it off. That worthy man Maestro Francesco da Norcia redoubled his efforts, and brought me every day fresh remedies, trying to restore strength to my miserable unstrung frame. Yet all these endeavours were apparently in sufficient to overcome the obstinacy of my malady, so that the physicians were in despair and at their wits' ends what to do. I was tormented by thirst, but had abstained from drinking for many days according to the doctors' orders. Felice, who thought he had done wonders in restoring me, never left my side. That old man ceased to give so much annoyance, yet sometimes he appeared to me in dreams.

One day Felice had gone out of doors, leaving me under the care of a young apprentice and a servant-maid called Beatrice. I asked the apprentice what had become of my lad Cencio, and what was the reason why I had never seen him in attendance on me. The boy replied that Cencio had been far more ill than I was, and that he was even at death's door. Felice had given them orders not to speak to me of this. On hearing the news, I was exceedingly distressed; then I called the maid Beatrice, a Pistojan girl, and asked her to bring me a great crystal water-cooler which stood near, full of clear and fresh water. She ran at once, and brought it to me full; I told her to put it to my lips, adding that if she let me take a draught according to my heart's content, I would give her a new gown. This maid had stolen from me certain little things of some importance, and in her fear of being detected, she would have been very glad if I had died. Accordingly she allowed me twice to take as much as I could of the water, so that in good earnest I swallowed more than a flask full.[7] I then covered myself, and began to sweat, and fell into a deep sleep. After I had slept about an hour, Felice came home and asked the boy how I was getting on. He answered: "I do not know. Beatrice brought him that cooler full of water, and he has drunk almost the whole of it. I don't know now whether he is alive or dead/' They say that my poor friend was on the point of falling to the ground, so grieved was he to hear this. Afterwards he took an ugly stick and began to beat the serving-girl with all his might, shouting out: "Ah! traitress, you have killed him for me then?" While Felice was cudgelling and she screaming, I was in a dream; I thought the old man held ropes in his hand, and while he was preparing to bind me, Felice had arrived and struck him with an axe, so that the old man fled exclaiming: "Let me go, and I promise not to return for a long while." Beatrice in the meantime had run into my bedroom shrieking loudly. This woke me up, and I called out: "Leave her alone; perhaps, when she meant to do me harm, she did me more good than you were able to do with all your efforts. She may indeed have saved my life; so lend me a helping hand, for I have sweated; and be quick about it." Felice recovered his spirits, dried and made me comfortable; and I, being conscious of a great improvement in my state, began to reckon on recovery.

When Maestro Francesco appeared and saw my great improvement, and the servant-girl in tears, and the prentice running to and fro, and Felice laughing, all this disturbance made him think that something extraordinary must have happened, which had been the cause of my amendment. Just then the other doctor, Bernardino, put in his appearance, who at the beginning of my illness had refused to bleed me. Maestro Francesco, that most able man, exclaimed: "Oh, power of Nature! She knows what she requires, and the physicians know nothing/' That simpleton, Maestro Bernardino, made answer, saying: "If he had drunk another bottle he would have been cured upon the spot." Maestro Francesco da Norcia, a man of age and great authority, said: "That would have been a terrible misfortune, and would to God that it may fall on you!" Afterwards he turned to me and asked if I could have drunk more water. I answered: "No, because I had entirely quenched my thirst." Then he turned to Maestro Bernardino, and said: "Look you how Nature has taken precisely what she wanted, neither more nor less. In like manner she was asking for what she wanted when the poor young man begged you to bleed him. If you knew that his recovery depended upon his drinking two flasks of water, why did you not say so before? You might then have boasted of his cure." At these words the wretched quack sulkily departed, and never showed his face again.

Maestro Francesco then gave orders that I should be removed from my room and carried to one of the hills there are in Rome. Cardinal Cornaro, when he heard of my improvement, had me transported to a place of his on Monte Cavallo. That very evening I was taken with great precautions in a chair, well wrapped up and protected from the cold. No sooner had I reached the place than I began to vomit, during which there came from my stomach a hairy worm about a quarter of a cubit in length: the hairs were long, and the worm was very ugly, speckled of divers colours, green, black, and,red. They kept and showed it to the doctor, who said he had never seen anything of the sort before, and afterwards remarked to Felice: "Now take care of your Benvenuto, for he is cured. Do not permit him any irregularities; for though he has escaped this time, another disorder now would be the death of him. You see his malady has been so grave, that if we had brought him the extreme unction, we might not have been in time. Now I know that with a little patience and time he will live to execute more of his fine works." Then he turned to me and said: "My Benvenuto, be prudent, commit no excesses, and when you are quite recovered, I beg you to make me a Madonna with your own hand, and I will always pay my devotions to it for your sake." This I promised to do, and then asked him whether it would be safe for me to travel so far as to Florence. He advised me to wait till I was stronger, and till we could observe how Nature worked in me.


When eight days had come and gone, my amendment was so slight that life itself became almost a burden to me; indeed I had been more than fifty days in that great suffering. So I made my mind up, and prepared to travel. My dear Felice and I went toward Florence in a pair of baskets;[8] and as I had not written, when I reached my sister's house, she wept and laughed over me all in one breath. That day many of my friends came to see me; among others Pier Landi, who was the best and dearest friend I ever had. Next day there came a certain Niccolo da Monte Aguto, who was also a very great friend of mine. Now he had heard the Duke say: "Benvenuto would have done much better to die, because he is come to put his head into a noose, and I will never pardon him." Accordingly when Niccolo arrived, he said to me in desperation: "Alas! my dear Benvenuto, what have you come to do here? Did you not know what you have done to displease the Duke? I have heard him swear that you were thrusting your head into a halter." Then I replied: "Niccolo, remind his Excellency that Pope Clement wanted to do as much to me before, and quite as unjustly; tell him to keep his eye on me, and give me time to recover; then I will show his Excellency that I have been the most faithful servant he will ever have in all his life; and forasmuch as some enemy must have served me this bad turn through envy, let him wait till I get well; for I shall then be able to give such an account of myself as will make him marvel."

This bad turn had been done me by Giorgetto Vassellario of Arezzo,[9] the painter; perchance in recompense for many benefits conferred on him. I had harboured him in Rome and provided for his costs, while he had turned my whole house upside down;

CEL V01 D425 giorgio vasari.jpg
giorgio vasari
( by himself )

for the man was subject to a species of dry scab, which he was always in the habit of scratching with his hands. It happened, then, that sleeping in the same bed as an excellent workman, named Manno, who was in my service, when he meant to scratch himself, he tore the skin from one of Manno's legs with his filthy claws, the nails of which he never used to cut. The said Manno left my service, and was resolutely bent on killing him. I made the quarrel up, and afterwards got Giorgio into Cardinal de' Medici's household, and continually helped him. For these deserts, then, he told Duke Alessandro that I had abused his Excellency, and had bragged I meant to be the first to leap upon the walls of Florence with his foes the exiles. These words, as I afterwards learned, had been put into Vasari's lips by that excellent fellow[10] Ottaviano de' Medici, who wanted to revenge himself for the Duke's irritation against him, on account of the coinage and my departure from Florence. I, being innocent of the crime falsely ascribed to me, felt no fear whatever. Meanwhile that able physician Francesco da Monte Varchi attended to my cure with great skill. He had been brought by my very dear friend Luca Martini, who passed the larger portion of the day with me.[11]


During this while I had sent my devoted comrade Felice back to Rome, to look after our business there. When I could raise my head a little from the bolster, which was at the end of fifteen days, although I was unable to walk upon my feet, I had myself carried to the palace of the Medici, and placed upon the little upper terrace. There they seated me to wait until the Duke went by. Many of my friends at court came up to greet me, and expressed surprise that I had undergone the inconvenience of being carried in that way, while so shattered by illness; they said that I ought to have waited till I was well, and then to have visited the Duke. A crowd of them collected, all looking at me as a sort of miracle; not merely because they had heard that I was dead, but far more because I had the look of a dead man. Then publicly, before them all, I said how some wicked scoundrel had told my lord the Duke that I had bragged I meant to be the first to scale his Excellency's walls, and also that I had abused him personally; wherefore I had not the heart to live or die till I had purged myself of that infamy, and found out who the audacious rascal was who had uttered such calumnies against me. At these words a large number of those gentlemen came round, expressing great compassion for me; one said one thing, one another, and I told them I would never go thence before I knew who had accused me. At these words Maestro Agostino, the Duke's tailor, made his way through all those gentlemen, and said: "If that is all you want to know, you shall know it at this very moment."

Giorgio the painter, whom I have mentioned, happened just then to pass, and Maestro Agostino exclaimed: "There is the man who accused you; now you know yourself if it be true or not." As fiercely as I could, not being able to leave my seat, I asked Giorgio if it was true that he had accused me. He denied that it was so, and that he had ever said anything of the sort. Maestro Agostino retorted: "You gallows-bird! don't you know that I know it for most certain?" Giorgio made off as quickly as he could, repeating that he had not accused me. Then, after a short while, the Duke came by; whereupon I had myself raised up before his Excellency, and he halted. I told him that I had come there in that way solely in order to clear my character. The Duke gazed at me, and marvelled I was still alive; afterwards he bade me take heed to be an honest man and regain my health.

When I reached home, Niccolò da Monte Aguto came to visit me, and told me that I had escaped one of the most dreadful perils in the world, quite contrary to all his expectations, for he had seen my ruin written with indelible ink; now I must make haste to get well, and afterwards take French leave, because my jeopardy came from a quarter and a man who was able to destroy me. He then said," Beware," and added: "What displeasure have you given to that rascal Ottaviano de' Medici?" I answered that I had done nothing to displease him, but that he had injured me; and told him all the affair about the Mint. He repeated: "Get hence as quickly as you can, and be of good courage, for you will see your vengeance executed sooner than you expect "I paid the best attention to my health, gave Pietro Pagolo advice about stamping the coins, and then went off upon my way to Rome without saying a word to the Duke or anybody else.


When I reached Rome, and had enjoyed the company of my friends awhile, I began the Duke's medal. In a few days I finished the head in steel, and it was the finest work of the kind which I had ever produced. At least once every day there came to visit me a sort of blockhead named Messer Francesco Soderini.[12] When he saw what I was doing, he used frequently to exclaim: "Barbarous wretch! you want then to immortalise that ferocious tyrant! You have never made anything so exquisite, which proves you our inveterate foe and their devoted friend; and yet the Pope and he have had it twice in mind to hang you without any fault of yours. That was the Father and the Son; now beware of the Holy Ghost." It was firmly believed that Duke Alessandro was the son of Pope Clement. Messer Francesco used also to say and swear by all his saints that, if he could, he would have robbed me of the dies for that medal. I responded that he had done well to tell me so, and that I would take such care of them that he should never see them more.

I now sent to Florence to request Lorenzino that he would send me the reverse of the medal. Niccolò da Monte Aguto, to whom I had written, wrote back, saying that he had spoken to that mad melancholy philosopher Lorenzino for it; he had replied that he was thinking night and day of nothing else, and that he would finish it as soon as he was able. Nevertheless, I was not to set my hopes upon his reverse, but I had better invent one out of my own head, and when I had finished it, I might bring it without hesitation to the Duke, for this would be to my advantage.

I composed the design of a reverse which seemed to me appropriate, and pressed the work forward to my best ability. Not being, however, yet recovered from that terrible illness, I gave myself frequent relaxation by going out on fowling expeditions with my friend Felice. This man had no skill in my art; but since we were perpetually day and night together, everybody thought he was a first-rate craftsman. This being so, as he was a fellow of much humour, we used often to laugh together about the great credit he had gained. His name was Felice Guadagni (Gain), which made him say in jest: "I should be called Felice Gain-little if you had not enabled me to acquire such credit that I can call myself Gainmuch." I replied that there are two ways of gaining: the first is that by which one gains for one's self, the second that by which one gains for others; so I praised him much more for the second than the first, since he had gained for me my life.

We often held such conversations; but I remember one in particular on the day of Epiphany, when we were together near La Magliana. It was close upon nightfall, and during the day I had shot a good number of ducks and geese; then, as I had almost made my mind up to shoot no more that time, we were returning briskly toward Rome. Calling to my dog by his name, Barucco, and not seeing him in front of me, I turned round and noticed that the well-trained animal was pointing at some geese which had settled in a ditch. I therefore dismounted at once, got my fowling-piece ready, and at a very long range brought two of them down with a single ball. I never used to shoot with more than one ball, and was usually able to hit my mark at two hundred cubits, which cannot be done by other ways of loading. Of the two geese, one was almost dead, and the other, though badly wounded, was flying lamely. My dog retrieved the one and brought it to me; but noticing that the other was diving down into the ditch, I sprang forward to catch it. Trusting to my boots, which came high up the leg, I put one foot forward; it sank in the oozy ground; and so, although I got the goose, the boot of my right leg was full of water. I lifted my foot and let the water run out; then, when I had mounted, we made haste for Rome. The cold, however, was very great, and I felt my leg freeze, so that I said to Felice: "We must do something to help this leg, for I don't know how to bear it longer." The good Felice, without a word, leapt from his horse, and gathering some thistles and bits of stick, began to build a fire. I meanwhile was waiting, and put my hands among the breast-feathers of the geese, and felt them very warm. So I told him not to make the fire, but filled my boot with the feathers of the goose, and was immediately so much comforted that I regained vitality.


We mounted, and rode rapidly toward Rome; and when we had reached a certain gently rising ground—night had already fallen—looking in the direction of Florence, both with one breath exclaimed in the utmost astonishment: "O 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." As we rode into Rome, the darkness was extreme; and when we came near the Banchi and our own house, my little horse was going in an amble at a furious speed. Now that day they had thrown a heap of plaster and broken tiles in the middle of the road, which neither my horse nor myself perceived. In his fiery pace the beast ran up it; but on coming down upon the other side he turned a complete somersault. He had his head between his legs, and it was only through the power of God himself that I escaped unhurt. The noise we made brought the neighbours out with lights; but I had already jumped to my feet; and so, without remounting, I ran home, laughing to have come unhurt out of an accident enough to break my neck.

On entering the house, I found some friends of mine there, to whom, while we were supping together, I related the adventures of the day's chase and the diabolical apparition of the fiery beam which we had seen. They exclaimed: "What shall we hear to-morrow which this portent has announced?" I answered: "Some revolution must certainly have occurred in Florence/' So we supped agreeably; and late the next day there came the news to Rome of Duke Alessandro's death.[13] Upon this many of my acquaintances came to me and said: "You were right in conjecturing that something of great importance had happened at Florence." Just then Francesco Soderini appeared jogging along upon a wretched mule he had, and laughing all the way like a madman. He said to me: "This is the reverse of that vile tyrant's medal which your Lorenzino de' Medici promised you." Then he added: "You wanted to immortalise the dukes for us; but we mean to have no more dukes:" and thereupon he jeered me, as though I had been the captain of the factions which make dukes. Meanwhile a certain Baccio Bettini,[14] who had an ugly big head like a bushel, came up and began to banter me in the same way about dukes, calling out: "We have dis-duked them, and won't have any more of them; and you were for making them immortal for us!" with many other tiresome quips of the same kind. I lost my patience at this nonsense, and said to them: "You blockheads! I am a poor goldsmith, who serve whoever pays me; and you are jeering me as though I were a party-leader. However, this shall not make me cast in your teeth the insatiable greediness, idiotcy, and good-for-nothingness of your predecessors. But this one answer I will make to all your silly railleries; that before two or three days at the longest have passed by, you will have another duke, much worse perhaps than he who now has left you."[15]

The following day Bettini came to my shop and said: "There is no need to spend money in couriers, for you know things before they happen. What spirit tells them to you?" Then he informed me that Cosimo de' Medici, the son of Signor Giovanni, was made Duke; but that certain conditions had been imposed at his election, which would hold him back from kicking up his heels at his own pleasure. I now had my opportunity for laughing at them, and saying: "Those men of Florence have set a young man upon a mettlesome horse; next they have buckled spurs upon his heels, and put the bridle freely in his hands, and turned him out upon a magnificent field, full of flowers and fruits and all delightful things; next they have bidden him not to cross certain indicated limits: now tell me, you, who there is that can hold him back, whenever he has but the mind to cross them? Laws cannot be imposed on him who is the master of the law." So they left me alone, and gave me no further annoyance.[16]


I now began to attend to my shop, and did some business, not however of much moment, because I had still to think about my health, which was not yet established after that grave illness I had undergone. About this time the Emperor returned victorious from his expedition against Tunis, and the Pope sent forme to take my advice concerning the present of honour it was fit to give him.[17] I answered that it seemed to me most appropriate to present his Imperial Majesty with a golden crucifix, for which I had almost finished an ornament quite to the purpose, and which would confer the highest honour upon his Holiness and me. I had already made three little figures of gold in the round, about a palm high; they were those which I had begun for the chalice of Pope Clement, representing Faith, Hope, and Charity. To these I added in wax what was wanting for the basement of the cross. I carried the whole to the Pope, with the Christ in wax, and many other exquisite decorations which gave him complete satisfaction. Before I took leave of his Holiness, we had agreed on every detail, and calculated the price of the work.

This was one evening four hours after nightfall, and the Pope had ordered Messer Latino Juvenale to see that I had money paid to me next morning. This Messer Latino, who had a pretty big dash of the fool in his composition, bethought him of furnishing the Pope with a new idea, which was, however, wholly of his own invention. So he altered everything which had been arranged; and next morning, when I went for the money, he said with his usual brutal arrogance: "It is our part to invent, and
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charles v
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yours to execute; before I left the Pope last night we thought of something far superior." To these first words I answered, without allowing him to proceed farther: "Neither you nor the Pope can think of anything better than a piece in which Christ plays a part; so you may go on with your courtier's nonsense till you have no more to say."

Without uttering one word, he left me in a rage, and tried to get the work given to another goldsmith. The Pope, however, refused, and sent for me at once, and told me I had spoken well, but that they wanted to make use of a Book of Hours of Our Lady, which was marvellously illuminated, and had cost the Cardinal de' Medici more than two thousand crowns. They thought that this would be an appropriate present to the Empress, and that for the Emperor they would afterwards make what I had suggested, which was indeed a present worthy of him; but now there was no time to lose, since the Emperor was expected in Rome in about a month and a half. He wanted the book to be enclosed in a case of massive gold, richly worked, and adorned with jewels valued at about six thousand crowns. Accordingly, when the jewels and the gold were given me, I began the work, and driving it briskly forward, in a few days brought it to such beauty that the Pope was astonished, and showed me the most distinguished signs of favour, conceding at the same time that that beast Juvenale should have nothing more to do with me.

I had nearly brought my work to its completion when the Emperor arrived, and numerous triumphal arches of great magnificence were erected in his honour. He entered Rome with extraordinary pomp, the description of which I leave to others, since I mean to treat of those things only which concern myself.[18] Immediately after his arrival, he gave the Pope a diamond which he had bought for twelve thousand crowns. This diamond the Pope committed to my care, ordering me to make a ring to the measure of his Holiness's finger; but first he wished me to bring the book in the state to which I had advanced it. I took it accordingly, and he was highly pleased with it; then he asked my advice concerning the apology which could be reasonably made to the Emperor for the unfinished condition of my work. I said that my indisposition would furnish a sound excuse, since his Majesty, seeing how thin and pale I was, would very readily believe and accept it. To this the Pope replied that he approved of the suggestion, but that I should add on the part of his Holiness, when I presented the book to the Emperor, that I made him the present of myself. Then he told me in detail how I had to behave, and the words I had to say. These words I repeated to the Pope, asking him if he wished me to deliver them in that way. He replied: "You would acquit yourself to admiration if you had the courage to address the Emperor as you are addressing me." Then I said that I had the courage to speak with far greater ease and freedom to the Emperor, seeing that the Emperor was clothed as I was, and that I should seem to be speaking to a man formed like myself; this was not the case when I addressed his Holiness,in whom I beheld a far superior deity, both by reason of his ecclesiastical adornments, which shed a certain aureole about him, and at the same time because of his Holiness's dignity of venerable age; all these things inspired in me more awe than the Imperial Majesty. To these words the Pope responded: "Go, my Benvenuto; you are a man of ability; do us honour, and it will be well for you."


The Pope ordered out two Turkish horses, which had belonged to Pope Clement, and were the most beautiful that ever came to Christendom. Messer Durante,[19] his chamberlain, was bidden to bring them through the lower galleries of the palace, and there to give them to the Emperor, repeating certain words which his Holiness dictated to him. We both went down together, and when we reached the presence of the Emperor, the horses made their entrance through those halls with so much spirit and such a noble carriage that the Emperor and every one were struck with wonder. Thereupon Messer Durante advanced in so graceless a manner, and delivered his speech with so much of Brescian lingo, mumbling his words over in his mouth, that one never saw or heard anything worse; indeed the Emperor could not refrain from smiling at him. I meanwhile had already uncovered my piece; and observing that the Emperor had turned his eyes towards me with a very gracious look, I advanced at once and said: "Sacred Majesty, our most holy Father, Pope Paolo, sends this book of the Virgin as a present to your Majesty, the which is written in a fair clerk's hand, and illuminated by the greatest master who ever professed that art; and this rich cover of gold and jewels is unfinished, as you here behold it, by reason of my illness: wherefore his Holiness, together with the book, presents me also, and attaches me to your Majesty in order that I may complete the work; nor this alone, but everything which you may have it in your mind to execute so long as life is left me, will I perform at your service." Thereto the Emperor responded: "The book is acceptable to me, and so are you; but I desire you to complete it for me in Rome; when it is finished, and you are restored to health, bring it me and come to see me." Afterwards, in course of conversation, he called me by my name, which made me wonder, because no words had been dropped in which my name occurred; and he said that he had seen that fastening of Pope Clement's cope, on which I had wrought so many wonderful figures. We continued talking in this way a whole half hour, touching on divers topics artistic and agreeable; then, since it seemed to me that I had acquitted myself with more honour than I had expected, I took the occasion of a slight lull in the conversation to make my bow and to retire. The Emperor was heard to say: "Let five hundred golden crowns be given at once to Benvenuto." The person who brought them up asked who the Pope's man was who had spoken to the Emperor. Messer Durante came forward and robbed me of my five hundred crowns. I complained to the Pope, who told me not to be uneasy, for he knew how everything had happened, and how well I had conducted myself in addressing the Emperor, and of the money I should certainly obtain my share.


When I returned to my shop, I set my hand with diligence to finishing the diamond ring, concerning which the four first jewellers of Rome were sent to consult with me. This was because the Pope had been informed that the diamond had been set by the first jeweller of the world in Venice; he was called Maestro Miliano Targhetta; and the diamond being somewhat thin, the job of setting it was too difficult to be attempted without great deliberation. I was well pleased to receive these four jewellers, among whom was a. man of Milan called Gaio. He was the most presumptuous donkey in the world, the one who knew least and who thought he knew most; the others were very modest and able craftsmen. In the presence of us all this Gaio began to talk, and said: "Miliano's foil should be preserved, and to do that, Benvenuto, you shall doff your cap;[20] for just as giving diamonds a tint is the most delicate and difficult thing in the jeweller's art, so is Miliano the greatest jeweller that ever lived, and this is the most difficult diamond to tint." I replied that it was all the greater glory for me to compete with so able a master in such an excellent profession. Afterwards I turned to the other jewellers and said: "Look here! I am keeping Miliano's foil, and I will see whether I can improve on it with some of my own manufacture; if not, we will tint it with the same you see here." That ass Gaio exclaimed that if I made a foil like that he would gladly doff his cap to it. To which I replied: "Supposing then I make it better, it will deserve two bows." "Certainly so," said he; and I began to compose my foils.

I took the very greatest pains in mixing the tints, the method of doing which I will explain in the proper place.[21] It is certain that the diamond in question offered more difficulties than any others which before or afterwards have come into my hands, and Miliano's foil was made with true artistic skill. However, that did not dismay me; but having sharpened my wits up, I succeeded not only in making something quite as good, but in exceeding it by far. Then, when I saw that I had surpassed him, I went about to surpass myself, and produced a foil by new processes which was a long way better than what I had previously made. Thereupon I sent for the jewellers; and first I tinted the diamond with Miliano's foil; then I cleaned it well and tinted it afresh with my own. When I showed it to the jewellers, one of the best among them, who was called Raffael del Moro, took the diamond in his hand and said to Gaio: "Benvenuto has outdone the foil of Miliano." Gaio, unwilling to believe it, took the diamond and said: "Benvenuto, this diamond is worth two thousand ducats more than with the foil of Miliano." I rejoined: "Now that I have surpassed Miliano, let us see if I can surpass my self." Then I begged them to wait for me a while, went up into a little cabinet, and having tinted the diamond anew unseen by them, returned and showed it to the jewellers. Gaio broke out at once: "This is the most marvellous thing that I have ever seen in the course of my whole lifetime. The stone is worth upwards of eighteen thousand crowns, whereas we valued it at barely twelve thousand." The other jewellers turned to him and said: "Benvenuto is the glory of our art, and it is only due that we should doff our caps to him and to his foils." Then Gaio said: "I shall go and tell the Pope, and I mean to procure for him one thousand golden crowns for the setting of this diamond." Accordingly he hurried to the Pope and told him the whole story; whereupon his Holiness sent three times on that day to see if the ring was finished.

At twenty-three o'clock I took the ring to the palace; and since the doors were always open to me, I lifted the curtain gently, and saw the Pope in private audience with the Marchese del Guasto.[22] The Marquis must have been pressing something on the Pope which he was unwilling to perform; for I heard him say: "I tell you, no; it is my business to remain neutral, and nothing else." I was retiring as quickly as I could, when the Pope himself called me back; so I entered the room, and presented the diamond ring, upon which he drew me aside, and the Marquis retired to a distance. While looking at the diamond, the Pope whispered to me: "Benvenuto, begin some conversation with me on a subject which shall seem important, and do not stop talking so long as the Marquis remains in this room." Then he took to walking up and down; and the occasion making for my advantage, I was very glad to discourse with him upon the methods I had used to tint the stone. The Marquis remained standing apart, leaning against a piece of tapestry; and now he balanced himself about on one foot, now on the other. The subject I had chosen to discourse upon was of such importance, if fully treated, that I could have talked about it at least three hours. The Pope was entertained to such a degree that he forgot the annoyance of the Marquis standing there. I seasoned what I had to say with that part of natural philosophy which belongs to our profession; and so having spoken for near upon an hour, the Marquis grew tired of waiting, and went off fuming. Then the Pope bestowed on me the most familiar caresses which can be imagined, and exclaimed: "Have patience, my dear Benvenuto, for I will give you a better reward for your virtues than the thousand crowns which Gaio tells me your work is worth."

On this I took my leave; and the Pope praised me in the presence of his household, among whom was the fellow Latino Juvenale, whom I have previously mentioned. This man, having become my enemy, assiduously strove to do me hurt; and noticing that the Pope talked of me with so much affection and warmth, he put in his word: "There is no doubt at all that Benvenuto is a person of very remarkable genius; but while everyone is naturally bound to feel more good-will for his own countrymen than for others, still one ought to consider maturely what language it is right and proper to use when speaking of a Pope. He has had the audacity to say that Pope Clement indeed was the handsomest sovereign that ever reigned, and no less gifted; only that luck was always against him: and he says that your Holiness is quite the opposite; that the tiara seems to weep for rage upon your head; that you look like a truss of straw with clothes on, and that there is nothing in you except good luck." These words, reported by a man who knew most excellently how to say them, had such force that they gained credit with the Pope. Far from having uttered them, such things had never come into my head. If the Pope could have done so without losing credit, he would certainly have taken fierce revenge upon me; but being a man of great tact and talent, he made a show of turning it off with a laugh. Nevertheless he harboured in his heart a deep vindictive feeling against me, of which I was not slow to be aware, since I had no longer the same easy access to his apartments as formerly, but found the greatest difficulty in procuring audience. As I had now for many years been familiar with the manners of the Roman court, I conceived that some one had done me a bad turn; and on making dexterous inquiries, I was told the whole, but not the name of my calumniator. I could not imagine who the man was; had I but found him out, my vengeance would not have been measured by troy weight.[23]

  1. Possibly Bernardino Lilii of Todi.
  2. Francesco Fusconi, physician to Popes Adrian VI., Clement VII., and Paul III.
  3. Franzesi was a clever Italian poet. His burlesque Capitoli are printed with those of Berni and others.
  4. Inferno, iii., the verses about Charon.
  5. Io gli possa soffiare in culo.
  6. This sonnet is so insipid, so untrue to Cellini's real place in art, so false to the far from saintly character of the man, that I would rather have declined translating it, had I not observed it to be a good example of that technical and conventional insincerity which was invading Italy at this epoch. Varchi was really sorry to hear the news of Cellini's death; but for his genuine emotion he found spurious vehicles of utterance. Cellini, meanwhile, had aright to prize it, since it revealed to him what friendship was prepared to utter after his decease.
  7. Un fiasco, holding more than a quart.
  8. Un paio di ceste, a kind of litter, here described in the plural, because two of them were perhaps put together. I have thought it best to translate the phrase literally. From a letter of Varchi to Bembo, <we learn that Cellini reached Florence, November 9, 1535.
  9. This is the famous Giorgio Vasari, a bad painter and worse architect, but dear to all lovers of the arts for his anecdotic work upon Italian artists.
  10. Galantuomo, used ironically.
  11. Luca Martini was a member of the best literary society in his days, and the author of some famous burlesque pieces.
  12. He had been banished in 1530 as a foe to the Medicean house.
  13. Alessandro was murdered by his cousin Lorenzino at Florence on the 5th of January 1537.
  14. Bettini was an intimate friend of Buonarroti and a considerable patron of the arts.
  15. This exchange of ironical compliments testifies to Cellini's strong Medicean leanings, and also to the sagacity with which he judged the political situation.
  16. Cellini only spoke the truth on this occasion; for Cosimo soon kicked down the ladder which had lifted him to sovereignty, and showed himself the absolute master of Florence. Cosimo was elected Duke upon the 9th of January 1537.
  17. Cellini returns to the year 1535, when Charles V. arrived in November from Tunis.
  18. The entry into Rome took place April 6, 1536.
  19. Messer Durante Duranti, Prefect of the Camera under Paul III., who gave him the hat in 1544, and the Bishopric of Brescia afterwards.
  20. In the Oreficeria Cellini gives an account of how these foils were made and applied. They were composed of paste, and coloured so as to enhance the effect of precious stones, particularly diamonds.
  21. Oreficeria, cap. i.
  22. Alfonson d' Avalos, successor and heir to the famous Ferdinando d' Avalos, Marquis of Pescara. He acted for many years as Spanish Viceroy of Milan.
  23. Io ne arei fatte vendette a misura di carbone.