Cellini, Benvenuto

Cellini, Benvenuto
(1500-1571)
   Florentine sculptor and goldsmith, now best known for his Autobiography, first published in 1728. Apprenticed as a goldsmith in Florence, he had a brilliant but unstable career, largely because of his own moral irregularities, which he admitted, often boastfully, in his autobiography. He is commonly regarded as one of the greatest sculptors who worked in the mannerist style. As early as 1516 Cellini had to leave Florence and move to Siena because of his involvement in a brawl, and his autobiography describes his many acts of violence, including murder. He worked for several years in several Italian cities, including Rome. He left Rome after it was looted by the imperial army in 1527 but later returned and worked in the papal mint on the design of commemorative medals. Although he was charged with the murder of another goldsmith, Pope Paul III pardoned him. Cellini fled Rome in 1535 to escape arrest, worked in several Italian cities, visited France, was arrested while back in Rome, but escaped and eventually moved to France.
   There he won the favor of King Francis I and created a grand-scale bronze sculpture of a nymph for the palace at Fontainebleau, his earliest surviving large-scale work. Also from this period is his gold saltcellar, an elegant example of his work as a jeweller. In 1545 Cellini returned to Florence and created for Duke Cosimo I a grand-scale bronze statue of Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa, probably the finest of his large works. He also demonstrated his mastery of carving in marble by incorporating an ancient marble torso belonging to the duke into a statue of Ganymede.
   Cellini's difficult personality and disorderly life, as well as the changing tastes of his patron, caused him to lose favor at court, and although his life-size Crucifix (1562) again demonstrated his mastery of work in marble, he never regained the generous patronage he enjoyed in his early career. He was an overwhelming personality. That personality is reflected in all of Cellini's literary work, which included the only two of his works published in his own lifetime, treatises on goldsmithing and sculpture, as well as a substantial body of poetry, not published until modern times, and his famous Autobiography (1728), which was widely translated into other languages. This work contributed significantly to the exaggerated idea of undisciplined individualism, violence, sexual irregularity, and irreligion that dominated much writing about Renaissance Italy during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.


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