Friday, December 15, 2006

The Perseus

Autobiography By Benvenuto Cellini
Chapters 89 to 93
Translation and Notes by John Addington Symonds (NEW YORK: P.F. COLLIER & SON COMPANY, 1909–14 )

I RETURNED to the Loggia, (1) 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, lack 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 housedoor, 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.” (2 )
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. (3)

Note 1. That is, the Loggia de’ Lanzi, on the great piazza of Florence, where Cellini’s statue still stands.
Note 2. If I understand the obscure lines of the original, Cellini wanted to kill two birds with one stone by this epigram—both Bernardone and his son Baccio. But by Buaccio he generally means Baccio Bandinelli.
Note 3. To bite the thumb at any one was, as students of our old drama know, a sign of challenge or provocation.

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. (1)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.

Note 1. Jacopo Carrucci da Pantormo was now an old man. He died in 1558, aged sixty-five years. Angelo Allori, called Il Bronzino, one of the last good Florentine painters, won considerable distinction as a writer of burlesque poems. He died in 1571, aged sixty-nine years. We possess his sonnets of the perseus.

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 Benvenuto 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. (1 ) 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 expected: 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 (2) 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 3 had constructed a fountain for them, complete in all 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 told 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. (3 )

Note 1. April 27, 1554.
Note 2. Don Juan de Vega.
Note 3. 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.

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.” (1 )
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 murder me.” 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.”

Note 1. The Ermo is more correctly Eremo, and Vernia is Alvernia.

Benvenuto Cellini (b. 1500, Firenze, d. 1571, Firenze) was a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith, and metal-worker. His Autobiography was written in a racy vernacular. It is a vivid picture of a Renaissance craftsman proud of his skill and independence, boastful of his feats in art, love, and war, quarrelsome, superstitious, and devoted to the great tradition embodied in Michelangelo. It has given him a wider reputation than could have come from his artistic work alone. To modern eyes he also appears as one of the most important Mannerist sculptors. After 1545, he spent the remainder of his life in Florence in the service of Cosimo I de Medici.It was only in this period that he took up large-scale sculpture in the round. The bronze Perseus (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence, 1545-54) is reckoned his masterpiece.The Perseus situated in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence, is one of the glories of Florentine art.

The models made by Cellini for the Perseus are in The Bargello, Florence. So are the originals of the small statues adorning the Perseus. The ones in The Loggia dei Lanzi are copies (for security reasons).

The sculpture shows Perseus, holding the head of the Medusa which he has cut off and from whose blood the winged horse Pegasus will be born. The sculpture can be considered as the reult of a direct competition with Donatello's earlier sculpture, Judith and Holophernes.

In the extracts from The Autobiography above, Cellini narrates the finishing of The Perseus and the reaction to it.


General biography:

Images of Cellini`s work:

On Cellini's Perseus by Michael Levey:

Autobiography by Benvenuto Cellini
Translated by John Addington Symonds:

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