Cellini, Benvenuto (1500–1571)

views updated May 18 2018


CELLINI, BENVENUTO (15001571), Italian goldsmith, sculptor, and writer. Cellini was the son of Giovanni Cellini, a Florentine court musician, inventor, and minor engineer. A restless, competitive young man, he trained and worked as a goldsmith in Siena and Bologna (1516), Pisa (1517), Rome (15191521, 15231527), and Mantua (15271528), returning to Florence for brief or long stays after each of these periods. From June 1529 to January 1534, Cellini served as incisore at the papal mint; throughout the 1530s, he was known for his fine medals and coins. The artist was in Naples in 1534; in Padua, Ferrara, and Lyon in 1537; and back in Rome thereafter. After serving time in prison there for embezzlement, he traveled in 1540 to France, where he spent the next five years, working among the numerous Italian artists at the court of King Francis I (ruled 15151547). In 1545, Cellini returned to his native Florence, where he spent most of the remainder of his life, and where he carried out all of his late works.

Beginning in the 1550s, Cellini became active as a writer, first composing poetry (some of it in reply to encomiastic verses that had been written to his bronze Perseus ), then an autobiography, then a pair of treatises on goldsmithery and sculpture (his only long works to be published in his lifetime), and a series of other discourses on the arts. Though the autobiography in particular is now admired especially for its low style and colorful language, all of the writings reveal Cellini's close association with academic movements in Florence, including the Accademia Fiorentina, to which Cellini briefly belonged in the late 1540s and which he probably aspired to rejoin in the 1560s, and the Accademia del Disegno, which Cellini tried to help shape after its founding in 1563. Cellini was a close friend of the painter and poet Agnolo Bronzino, the philosopher and historian Benedetto Varchi, and the court physician Guido Guidi; he was a rival to the goldsmith Leone Leoni, the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, and the painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari (15111574).

It was initially on account of his writings, rather than his art, that Cellini, who had been largely forgotten after his death, came to interest later authors. The Autobiography, which was first printed in Italian in 1728 (with a dedication to Richard Boyle), in English in 1771 (in a translation by Thomas Nugent), and in German in 1796 (in a translation by Goethe), went through countless editions in the nineteenth century. Cellini's dramatic accounts of chivalric quests, murders, a prison escape, and activities as a soldier made him seem, to Romantic writers, the paradigmatic Renaissance adventurer; he was the subject of a Berlioz opera and an Alexandre Dumas novel. As an artist, Cellini was also celebrated as an icon of Renaissance "universality." Major studies of Cellini as an artist by Eugène Plon (1883) and Friedrich Kriegbaum (1941), establishing the basis for what most people today regard as his oeuvre, clarified, without exactly overturning, this impression. While Cellini could no longer be connected with the enormous range of precious objects attributed to him in the nineteenth century, he could, by the mid-twentieth century, be appreciated as a marble sculptor, no less than as a metalworker. More recently, interest in mannerist art and in early art theory has lent Cellini a different sort of importance, as few artists who practiced his range of arts wrote as voluminously and as informatively about them as he did.

Cellini's major sculptural works include the Saltcellar, commissioned by Ippolito D'Este in Rome, completed for Francis at Fontainebleau, and now in Vienna; the decorations, including the surviving Nymph of Fontainebleau, intended to complement Francesco Primaticcio's frescoes for the Porte Dorée at Fontainebleau; the Perseus and Medusa, still in its original position in the Loggia de' Lanzi in Florence (though the original base has been moved to the Bargello, and replaced with a copy); a series of marble sculptures of classical subjects, most of them now in the Bargello; and the marble Crucifix, originally meant for his tomb, and now at the Escorial in Spain. As an artist, Cellini is probably most significant for having rejuvenated the production of monumental public bronze statuary in central Italy. A number of the important sculptors in the generation after Cellini, including Pier Paolo Romano, Willem de Tetrode, Francesco Tadda, and Stoldo Lorenzi all spent time in Cellini's shop.

See also Coins and Medals ; Florence, Art in ; Sculpture .


Primary Sources

Ashbee, C. R., trans. The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture. New York, 1967. Reprint of 1888 edition.

Cellini, Benvenuto. The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. Translated by J. Addington Symonds. 2 vols. New York, 1910.

Ferrero, Giuseppe Guido, ed. Opere di Benvenuto Cellini. Turin, 1971.

Secondary Sources

Calamandrei, Piero. Scritti e inediti celliniani. Edited by Carlo Cordié. Florence, 1971.

Cole, Michael W. Cellini and the Principles of Sculpture. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

Pope-Hennessy, John. Cellini. New York, 1985.

Michael Cole

Cellini, Benvenuto (1500-1571)

views updated May 29 2018

Cellini, Benvenuto (1500-1571)

This celebrated Italian artist and craftsman was born in November, 1500, in Florence, Italy. Cellini lived a colorful life and his account of the working life of a sixteenth century artist in his Autobiography recounting relations with his family, friends, enemies, and patrons was celebrated in countless translations by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and served as the basis for an opera by Hector Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini 1837. In his book he claimed to have had interesting adventures with demons and practitioners of black magic. The following excerpt from his Autobiography gives a vivid account of one such experience:

"It happened, through a variety of odd accidents, that I made acquaintance with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of genius, and well versed in the Latin and Greek authors. Happening one day to have some conversation with him, when the subject turned on the subject of necromancy, I, who had a great desire to know something of the matter, told him, that I had all my life felt a curiosity to be acquainted with the mysteries of this art. The priest made answer, 'That the man must be of a resolute and steady temper who enters upon that study.' I replied, 'That I had fortitude and resolution enough, if I could but find an opportunity.' The priest subjoined, 'If you think you have the heart to venture, I will give you all the satisfaction you can desire.' Thus we agreed to enter upon a plan of necromancy. The priest one evening prepared to satisfy me, and desired me to look out for a companion or two. I invited one Vincenzio Romoli, who was my intimate acquaintance: he brought with him a native of Pistoia, who cultivated the black art himself. We repaired to the Colloseo, and the priest, according to the custom of necromancers, began to draw circles upon the ground with the most impressive ceremonies imaginable: he likewise brought hither assafoetida, several precious perfumes and fire, with some compositions also which diffused noisome odors. As soon as he was in readiness, he made an opening to the circle, and having taken us by the hand, ordered the other necromancer, his partner, to throw the perfumes into the fire at the proper time, intrusting the care of the fire and the perfumes to the rest; and then he began his incantations. This ceremony lasted above an hour and a half, when there appeared several legions of devils insomuch that the amphitheatre was quite filled with them. I was busy about the perfumes, when the priest, perceiving there was a considerable number of infernal spirits, turned to me and said, 'Benvenuto, ask them something.' I answered, 'Let them bring me into the company of my Sicilian mistress, Angelica.' That night we obtained no answer of any sort; but I had received great satisfaction in having my curiosity so far indulged. The necromancer told me, it was requisite we should go a second time, assuring me, that I should be satisfied in whatever I asked; but that I must bring with me a pure immaculate boy.

"I took with me a youth who was in my service, of about twelve years of age, together with the same Vincenzio Romoli, who had been my companion the first time and one Agnolino Gaddi, an intimate acquaintance, whom I likewise prevailed on to assist at the ceremony. When we came to the place appointed, the priest having made his preparations as before, with the same and even more striking ceremonies, placed us within the circle, which he had likewise drawn with a more wonderful art, and in a more solemn manner, than at our former meeting. Thus having committed the care of the perfume and the fire to my friend Vincenzio, who was assisted by Agnolino Gaddi, he put into my hand a pintacula or magical chart, and bid me turn it towards the places that he should direct me; and under the pintacula I held the boy. The necromancer having begun to make his tremendous invocations, called by their names a multitude of demons, who were the leaders of the several legions, and questioned them by the power of the eternal uncreated God, who lives for ever, in the Hebrew language, as likewise in Latin and Greek; insomuch that the amphitheatre was almost in an instant filled with demons more numerous than at the former conjuration. Vincenzio Romoli was busied in making a fire, with the assistance of Agnolino, and burning a great quantity of precious perfumes. I, by the direction of the necromancer, again desired to be in the company of my Angelica. The former thereupon turning to me, said, 'Know, they have declared, that in the space of a month you shall be in her company.'

"He then requested me to stand resolutely by him, because the legions were now above a thousand more in number than he had designed; and, besides these were the most dangerous; so that, after they had answered my question, it behoved him to be civil to them, and dismiss them quietly. At the same time the boy under the pintacula was in a terrible fright, saying, that there were in that place a million of fierce men, who threatened to destroy us; and that, moreover, four armed giants of an enormous stature were endeavoring to break into our circle. During this time, whilst the necromancer, trembling with fear, endeavored by mild and gentle methods to dismiss them in the best way he could, Vincenzio Romoli, who quivered like an aspen leaf, took, care of the perfumes. Though I was as much terrified as any of them, I did my utmost to conceal the terror I felt; so that I greatly contributed to inspire the rest with resolution; but the truth is, I gave myself over for a dead man, seeing the horrid fright the necromancer was in. The boy placed his head between his knees, and said, 'In this posture I will die; for we shall all surely perish.' I told him that all these demons were under us, and what he saw was smoke and shadow; so I bid him hold up his head and take courage. No sooner did he look up, but he cried out, 'The whole amphitheatre is burning, and the fire is just falling upon us;' so covering his eyes with his hands, he again exclaimed that destruction was inevitable, and he desired to see no more. The necromancer entreated me to have a good heart, and take care to burn the proper perfumes; upon which I turned to Romoli, and bid him burn all the most precious perfumes he had. At the same time I cast my eye upon Agnolino Gaddi, who was terrified to such a degree that he could scarce distinguish objects, and seemed to be half-dead. Seeing him in this condition, I said, 'Agnolino, upon these occasions a man should not yield to fear, but should stir about and give his assistance; so come directly and put on some more of these perfumes.' Poor Agnolino, upon attempting to move, was so violently terrified that the effects of his fear overpowered all the perfumes we were burning. The boy, hearing a crepitation, ventured once more to raise his head, when, seeing me laugh, he began to take courage, and said, 'That the devils were flying away with a vengeance.'

"In this condition we stayed till the bell rang for morning prayer. The boy again told us, that there remained but few devils, and these were at a great distance. When the magician had performed the rest of his ceremonies, he stripped off his gown and took up a wallet full of books which he had brought with him. We all went out of the circle together, keeping as close to each other as we possibly could, especially the boy, who had placed himself in the middle, holding the necromancer by the coat, and me by the cloak. As we were going to our houses in the quarter of Banchi, the boy told us that two of the demons whom we had seen at the amphitheatre, went on before us leaping and skipping, sometimes running upon the roofs of the houses, and sometimes upon the ground. The priest declared, that though he had often entered magic circles, nothing so extraordinary had ever happened to him. As we went along, he would fain persuade me to assist with him at consecrating a book, from which, he said, we should derive immense riches: we should then ask the demons to discover to us the various treasures with which the earth abounds, which would raise us to opulence and power; but that those love-affairs were mere follies, from whence no good could be expected. I answered, 'That I would readily have accepted his proposal if I under-stood Latin': he redoubled his persuasions, assuring me, that the knowledge of the Latin language was by no means material. He added, that he could have Latin scholars enough, if he had thought it worth while to look out for them; but that he could never have met with a partner of resolution and intrepidity equal to mine, and that I should by all means follow his advice. Whilst we were engaged in this conversation, we arrived at our respective homes, and all that night dreamt of nothing but devils."

Cellini died in February, 1571, in Florence.


Cellini, Benvenuto. Autobiography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1961.

Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham. Cellini. New York: Abbe-ville Press, 1985.

Symonds, J. A. The Life of Benvenuto Cellini. 2 vols. London, 1888.

Benvenuto Cellini

views updated May 21 2018

Benvenuto Cellini

The Italian goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) is considered the greatest goldsmith of the Italian Renaissance. He was also the author of the celebrated "Autobiography."

Given the immense pride that Benvenuto Cellini took in his talents, it is ironic that very few certain examples of his art as a sculptor exist today and that he is best known for his Autobiography. It is an extraordinary record of absorbing interest on many levels: a spirited and candid revelation of a complex character; a narrative of historical importance for its account of the working life of a 16th-century artist in his relations with his family, friends, enemies, and patrons; and a document of great interest for a description of the techniques of sculpture which has still not been fully investigated. Cellini stopped working on his Autobiography in 1558, and it was not published until 1728. It enchanted the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote the first of countless translations; served as the basis for an opera by Hector Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini (1837); and even stimulated the production of films for the 20th century centered on this colorful life that seems to fulfill every demand of the romantic conception of the artist.

However colorful the Cellini myth has become and however significant the response to this legend as an indication of the concept of the artist as romantic hero, the actual facts of Cellini's life remain at least as interesting as the stories. The son of an architect and musician, Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence on Nov. 3, 1500. Trained as a goldsmith and early proficient in that craft, at 16 he had to leave Florence because of a street fight and spent some months in Siena. In 1519 he moved to Rome, the center of his activity for the next two decades, although his Roman years were frequently interrupted by journeys to Pisa, Bologna, Venice, Naples, and Florence, the city to which he always remained loyal.

In Rome, Cellini served popes Clement VII and Paul III, working chiefly on portrait medallions, coins, and jewels. By his own account Cellini was a notable fighter, and in the sack of Rome (1527) he fought against the imperial troops. An increasingly tense relationship with Paul III and a series of violent incidents led to Cellini's imprisonment in the Castel Sant'Angelo, from which he made a dramatic escape.

Works for the French King

Cellini spent the years 1540-1545 in France, serving Francis I as sculptor, decorator, and designer of architectural projects for the royal château of Fontainebleau. In 1543 he completed the famous and elaborate Salt Cellar from a model prepared earlier for Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. Cellini made models for a series of 12 silver statues of gods and goddesses and executed two bronze busts and silver vases (all now lost). He cast the bronze lunette of the Nymph of Fontainebleau (1545).

The gold Salt Cellar demonstrates extremely well the technical virtuosity in which Cellini delighted; the architectural relief of the Nymph reveals that even when he was working on a large scale as a sculptor his art was still essentially that of a goldsmith. These two examples of the few extant works by Cellini display the hallmarks of his style: intricately wrought surfaces alternating with highly polished smooth areas bounded by carefully chiseled contours. The precise and elegant effect achieved by such contrasts was enhanced by the use of graceful, elongated figures. Works of art such as these as well as Cellini's actual presence in France, along with other artists working under the enthusiastic patronage of Francis I, played an important part in forming the style of French art in the late 16th century and helped to create an international courtly style favored throughout Europe in this period.

Return to Italy

Cellini returned to Florence in 1545. For Duke Cosimo de' Medici he executed a bronze portrait of the duke, some marble statues of classical themes, and his most ambitious creation, the bronze Perseus in the Loggia dei Lanzi. The rigid, tense pose and biting characterization of the portrait of Cosimo were tempered in the more austere portrait of Bindo Altoviti (ca. 1550). Cellini's love of classical allusions, elaborate decorative effects, and formal elegance makes the Perseus appear more constrained and more stylish than the artist's tempestuous account of its casting would suggest.

These later Florentine years of the sculptor's life saw reenacted the earlier pattern of gradually increased difficulties with his patron, Duke Cosimo, and bitter conflicts with other artists, especially Baccio Bandinelli and Bartolommeo Ammanati. At the same time Cellini's admiration for Michelangelo, his constant concern for his family, and the carving of a large ivory Crucifix (1562) as the realization of a vision he had years before in prison reveal other facets of his many-sided character.

Cellini's Autobiography broke off in 1558, the year in which he took preliminary religious vows, but these were never carried further. In 1565 he began work on his treatises on the goldsmith's art and on sculpture; they were published in 1568. He died in Florence on Feb. 13, 1571.

Cellini lived during a period of religious, political, social, and military strife and tension. This stormy atmosphere is nowhere more vividly described than in Cellini's Autobiography and nowhere more apparent than in the evidence of his own life with its sharp contrasts of egoism and religious faith, worldly ambition and filial devotion, and spirited pride in his own talents and genuine humility in his admiration for the greater genius he saw in the work of Michelangelo and the ancients.

Further Reading

C.R. Ashbee translated The Treatise of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture (1888; repr. 1967). The Life of Benvenuto Cellini Written by Himself, edited by John Pope-Hennessy (1949), is the most useful recent edition of the basic translation by J. A. Symonds. The major work, in French, upon which less important studies have been based, is Eugène Plon, Benvenuto Cellini (1883). A brief but important critical summary is in volume 2 of John Pope-Hennessy, Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture (1963).

Additional Sources

Cellini, Benvenuto, The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, New York: Modern Library, 1985.

Cellini, New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. □

Cellini, Benvenuto (1500–1571)

views updated Jun 27 2018

Cellini, Benvenuto (15001571)

Sculptor, jeweler, and goldsmith, Cellini was a leading craftsman and artist of the Italian Renaissance who described a turbulent and violent life through a famous autobiography. Born in Florence to a well-to-do landowning family, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith but fled the city after getting into a scrape with the law. He journeyed to Siena, the rival of Florence, then to the more distant city of Bologna, where he became an accomplished musician as well as a professional jeweler and metalsmith. At the age of nineteen he settled in Rome, where he became a musician at the court of the pope and an artisan in wide demand for delicately wrought medals, miniatures, and jewelrysome of the finest and most valuable works of art of his age. An accomplished soldier, he fought valiantly in the pope's armies during a siege of Rome, but could not subdue his violent nature in the face of challenges to his freedom or his honor on the part of friends, patrons, or the authorities.

He fled Rome after killing the man who had murdered his brother, engaging in a sword fight with a notary, and developing a sworn enemy of the son of Pope Paul III. On returning to the city, he was arrested on a charge of embezzlement and imprisoned in the Castel Sant' Angelo, the ancient fortress that stood high on the west bank of the Tiber River near the pope's palace at the Vatican.

Enraged at his captivity and his treatment in Rome, Cellini returned to Florence. There he completed Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa, a famous sculpture that stood for centuries in the main square of Florence, and which many historians rank next to the greatest works of Donatello and Michelangelo. When Florence went to war with Siena, Cellini was hired to strengthen the walls and defenses of the city, a task that he carried out with great skill and that earned him a pardon for the many accusations against him of violence, theft, and immorality.

Cellini created a celebrated gold medallion of Pope Clement VII, who employed him as a diemaker at the papal mint. He also created works on commission for Cardinal Pietro Bembo, King Francis and Alessandro de' Medici, the duke of Florence. Cellini objects were rare treasures jealously fought over by European kings and nobility, and remain objects of rivalry and veneration to this day among museums all over the world.

The artist's most renowned work, however, was an autobiography that he began writing in the 1550s. The author goes into great detail about his art, his many love affairs and rivalries, his dealings with nobility and rival artists, and his love of violence to settle any and all disputes. He interrupts his many strange, sometimes supernatural, adventures with extravagant praise of himself and his art, giving the impression of a chimeric, rough-edged character who outshines and outmaneuvers all who surround him. Cellini's autobiography became a classic and one of the most important written works to originate during the Renaissance.

Benvenuto Cellini

views updated May 21 2018

Benvenuto Cellini. Opera in 2 acts by Berlioz (Op.23) to lib. by Léon de Wailly and A. Barbier, loosely based on Cellini's autobiography (1728). Comp. 1834–7. Prod. Paris 1838, London 1853 (cond. Berlioz). Revived London 1966, Boston 1975. Rev. in 3 acts after Weimar perfs. in 1852. Berlioz withdrew the opera because of its failure. Some of the mus. is used in the ov. Carnaval romain. Cellini is subject of operas by Schlösser, Lachner, Diaz, and Saint-Saëns, among others.

Cellini, Benvenuto

views updated May 29 2018

Cellini, Benvenuto (1500–71), Italian goldsmith and sculptor, the most renowned goldsmith of his day. His work is characterized by its elaborate virtuosity. His autobiography is famous for its racy style and its vivid picture of contemporary Italian life.