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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography

If you're a jeweler/metalsmith you should read the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, master Italian goldsmith from the Renaissance. I'm very fortunate to have this two volume edition of it with reproductions of forty original portraits of historically prominent people such as Pope Clement VII, Charles V and several members of the House of Medici.  It is widely believed to be the most important autobiography of the Renaissance and, arguably, one of the most entertaining autobiographies of all time.

Besides being a goldsmith, Cellini was also a sculptor, draftsman, soldier and musician.  Here is a Wikipedia description of his autobiography:


"The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started in the year 1558 at the age of 58 and ended abruptly just before his last trip to Pisaaround the year 1563 when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his singular career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions, and delights, written in an energetic, direct, and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. He even writes in a complacent way of how he contemplated his murders before carrying them out. He writes of his time in Paris:
When certain decisions of the court were sent me by those lawyers, and I perceived that my cause had been unjustly lost, I had recourse for my defense to a great dagger I carried; for I have always taken pleasure in keeping fine weapons. The first man I attacked was a plaintiff who had sued me; and one evening I wounded him in the legs and arms so severely, taking care, however, not to kill him, that I deprived him of the use of both his legs. Then I sought out the other fellow who had brought the suit, and used him also such wise that he dropped it.
– The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Ch. XXVIII, as translated by John Addington Symonds, Dolphin Books edition, 1961
Parts of his tale recount some extraordinary events and phenomena; such as his stories of conjuring up a legion of devils in theColosseum, after one of his not innumerous mistresses had been spirited away from him by her mother; of the marvelous halo of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and twilight after his Roman imprisonment, and his supernatural visions and angelic protection during that adversity; and of his being poisoned on two separate occasions."




Many of Cellini's masterpieces have been lost but here are a couple which are still in existence.  This is the bronze statue Perseus with the Head of Medusa which currently stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence.

And this is the well known salt cellar made of gold, enamel and ivory known as Saliera which was made for Francis I of France.


This book, which Cellini wrote between the 1558 and 1563, is a fascinating read even in our modern times.  I highly recommend it to everyone but especially for my fellow metalsmiths.