LIFE AMONGST METALS Benvenuto Cellini 1500 1571 was an extraordinary personality As a goldsmith, a warrior, a musician and a writer, he certainly did not lack skills But I shall refer to him as Benvenuto, Mister Welcome He was named so after a wait of eighteen years by his parents, but if he becomes congenial to us also it is because after reading his memoirs one feels so much closer to him He started writing his Life at the age of fifty eight but he ended it abruptly, for unknown reasons, about five years later It was not his death that halted it To situate Benvenuto well and clearly in his times it is apt to remember that he was an exact contemporary of the Emperor Charles V but died at an older age by about twenty three years This will help in realizing that the Emperor together with this dialectical nemesis, the King of France Francis I, changed the map of forces in the Italian peninsula Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples gravitated around these two foreign monarchs during a good part of the sixteenth century Following his peripatetic life we see that he witnessed it all Benvenuto welcomed and embraced his age in all its expansion and destruction He was there in the middle of the imbroglio and he played not just the flute, but also a part in the determinant political and artistic events With his bloody and treasured metals and precious stones he served the Medici pope, Clement VII During the Sack of Rome, Benvenuto, from the tower of Sant Angelo and while melting the pope s jewels from the Apostolic Camera to save the gold, shot with his falconet the very Prince of Orange He had also served the attacker, Charles V, with his exquisite creations, but claimed to have killed one of his militant arms, the Duke of Bourbon Later he served Francis I, and his lover the Duchesse d tampes He leaves us a disparaged and amusing image of this woman, while he left in Fontainebleau some of his preciosities Amongst others, he had managed to convince the French Monarch of the beauty of his Salt Cellar, the Saliera, one of Benvenuto s most famous concoctions and which previous patrons had failed to realize its exquisiteness He served Duke Alessandro de Medici, and his version of Lorenzaccio, the cousin who killed the Duke, is not like the romanticized interpretation of the Romantic Alfred de Musset, who got the inspiration of his play during his romance with George Sand Indeed, Benvenuto is the source of the revelation gossip for historians that this Medici was the illegitimate son of the Pope Clement Benvenuto also served the Grand Duke of the Medici, Cosimo the First who was not the first of the Medici Cosimos Whirling in this court, in which the Duchess Eleanor of Toledo gave free rein to her addiction to luxury, was a fruitful and dangerous enterprise.Reading this biography one cannot believe one s eyes and that this book actually exists and how lucky we are to have it It is such a treat to handle a primary source that is as enthralling and entertaining and action packed as a novel by Dumas p re For a reader now, familiar with the uncanny tricks of Modernism, Benvenuto s visions and accounts of miracles seem almost a parody of Dante and his Paradiso This version however, instead of ecstasy, elicits merriment For a reader now, his occasional bloody brutality can only seem repugnant But we have to remember that for a man of his period, to walk around with one s sword hanging from the belt or the dagger concealed in the leg was as necessary for positioning oneself in the world as it is for us now to carry a mobile phone For a reader now, his views of women can also repel, but for a reader now, his views of young men would seem liberating.For his boasted life was full of all kinds of arts, the art of the precious object and the stunning sculpture the art of promoting himself is there a effective practice of representation the art of killing the enemy or the art of defending one s life And in no life as in Benvenuto s do we see so ironically how metals and precious stones can be so dangerous Like a cat of many lives he survived, amongst other attempts, one in which he was made to swallow pulverized diamonds Dante s Contrapasso or sculptural Contrapposto shake hands in these memoirs.His views on art and craftsmanship are fascinating too He grew artistically under the shadow of his master Michelangelo, but he vilified Bandinelli He was then clairvoyant, for it seems that Florentines now disparage over the presence of the latter s Hercules and Cacus in the Piazza della Signoria But most important, we have to be aware of the rarity of having a direct account on the difficulty in the actual making of some of the art works whose existence we take for granted We follow with great suspense when Benvenuto finally casts out his Perseus with a similar triumphal gesture as that displayed by his creation Perseus holds out the severed head of the Medusa Benvenuto held out his Perseus for posterity to behold.But to me it was his layers of humour, with his insistent persistence on the veracity of his claims, that have made some of his quotes so memorableWithout further provocation he retorted that I was a donkey whereupon I said that he was not speaking the truth that I was a better man than he in every respect, but that if he kept on irritating me I would give him harder kicks than any donkey could. In this account, and thanks to the electrifying conductivity of Cellini s life written out of the materials he handled so well, we have been bequeathed with a scintillating conduit to the first half of the 16C in Italy.Violent Metals Precious Life Precious Metals Violent Life. 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And Thank You For Being An Important Part Of Keeping This Knowledge Alive And Relevant Cellini was a goldsmith and sculptor of genius and little of his work survives today Perseus with the Head of Medusa, the bronze sculpture he made in 1545, being a stunning exception Precious metals tend to be melted down, especially in times of strife One of the text s greatest pleasures, therefore, is Cellini s description of his works and his painstaking process of making them This is truly a book of an artist of exquisite talent and his work plans Were it not for this text we would know little of the larger body of his work, since, as I ve said, so few examples survive.This praise aside, one is tempted to label this memoir auto hagiography, for a lot of it is about self promotion and securing the author s posthumous myth Cellini s self love can overwhelm he has no gift for humility But the fact remains that the book s also highly readable Readable as, say, Robert Louis Stevenson s Treasure Island is readable Suddenly he s walking down the street with his mentor Michelangelo or meeting with Pope Clement for whom he made many baubles or manning the Castel Sant Angelo s guns during the 1527 Sack of Rome by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.He was one of those people who liked making enemies By tearing others down he d propping himself up Apparently his works alone were insufficient to the task of contenting him Perhaps because producing them required such fawning acquiescence before the rich and powerful Cellini was far too headstrong to be a courtier When he is calumniated by a vicious Vatican courtier, who says he has gravely insulted the Pope Farnese now not Clement Cellini sets off to find work in France, for the Pope will no longer pay him for his baubles true worth and he fears arrest On this journey by horseback we glimpse the pristine countryside in 1530 or so from Grisons to Zurich, and then in and around Lausanne, Geneva and Lyons until finally after fighting off murderous brigands the road to Paris is open But soon Cellini returns to his shop and boyfriends in Rome, I found the rationale for doing so unclear.When Pope Farnese s illegitimate son, Signor Pier Luigi, calumniates Cellini saying that during the Sack of Rome under Clement he stole Vatican jewelry worth 80,000 crowns he is thrown without a hearing into prison, which turns out to be the same Castel Sant Angelo from whose terrace he d valiantly supervised the Church s guns during the Sack The French king, who met Cellini in Rome, and whom Cellini has promised to come and serve for a time, tries diplomatic measures to free him and fails Ultimately, the wily goldsmith escapes by tying together strips of bedsheets, but during the escape he breaks his leg On all fours then, leaving a trail of blood, he crawls through the streets to a friendly Cardinal s house for sanctuary Pleas from high society are then made to the pope on Cellini s behalf But once again Luigi smears him with a heinous lie, outrageous than the first, and Cellini is thrown into the Vatican s worst dungeon crawling with tarantulas and venomous worms Now his death is eagerly sought by the pope and his henchmen But finally the French king is victorious in his diplomacy and Cellini is almost literally spirited out of the Vatican.The French king, Francis I, inundates Cellini with money and honors I cannot understate how despicably corrupt the French royal court was My God, the avarice And naturally there were no police, no rule of law The so called chivalrous knights were too busy shaking down the peasantry for coins Moreover, it s the 1540s so we can hardly fault Cellini for the many unsourced scenes in which he is not present but seems to possess a verbatim transcript Suspect too are his many speeches set before his noble patrons in which he wins the argument Many of these speeches feel like staircase wit Yiddish trepverter French l esprit de l escalier , if not outright invention But we must keep in mind that Cellini was very social It could be that these overheard conversations, some of them, were relayed to him later by third parties We can never really know for sure of course and this undermines credibility That said, the autobiography remains a rare glimpse into the daily life of Renaissance Italy and has few if any textual equals, as such it compels careful reading Highly recommended. All men of whatsoever quality they be, who have done anything of excellence, or which may properly resemble excellence, ought, if they be persons of truth and honesty, to describe their life with their own hand Why we like or dislike someone, why we admire or despise them, why we are happy or annoyed by their conversation, are questions difficult than they look After reading this book, for example, I have grown quite enad of Benvenuto Cellini, even though he had many ugly sides to his character besides being criminally immoral These flaws were unmistakable and impossible to ignore and yet he had one quality that allowed me, and has allowed many others, to grow fond of him nevertheless charisma.Born in Florence in 1500, Benvenuto Cellini was a goldsmith and a sculptor, considered one of the most important artists of Mannerism During his lifetime he traveled all around Italy and France, making rings, necklaces, salt shakers, statues, fountains, buttons, lapels, and coins for rich and powerful patrons Perhaps his most famous work is the statue of Perseus standing over the body of Medusa, her bloody head held aloft in his hand, which can be found in Florence As far as I know, the only work of his I have personally seen is his fine crucifix in the Escorial near Madrid Since writing this, I ve seen both the Perseus statue in Flornece and his famous salt cellar in Vienna, both exceptional But despite Cellini being, to quote his book, the greatest artist ever born in his craft, he is nowadays mostly remembered for his autobiography, which is without doubt the most important work of its kind from the Renaissance.Cellini wrote his autobiography in a simple, matter of fact style His main focus was on his development and career as an artist, but he also relates many stories from his personal life along the way And from this narration emerges a remarkable portrait of the man himself.The most conspicuous part of Cellini s character is his arrogance He says near the beginning in a work like this there will always be found occasion for natural bragging, but occasional is hardly a fitting description of his boasting Every page is stuffed with self praise He compliments himself for his robust constitution, his strong body, his keen mind, his kind nature, his skill in combat, and most of all his artistic prowess The only artist he thinks equal to himself is Michelangelo, and with few exceptions he considers his rivals to be incompetent dunces, or worse.It does not take shrewd judgment to read between the lines of this autobiography Cellini only admits to being in the wrong once in his life After taking sexual advantage of one of his models, he viciously beat her He felt guilty because the day before he had forced her at gunpoint to marry her lover The next day, he beat her up again Other than this, Cellini would have you believe he is a decent, honest, respectful man and that all his enemies were motivated by jealousy or pure wickedness And yet, the speed and consistency with which he finds himself surrounded by enemies, and the frequency with which he gets into disputes and fights, makes it painfully clear that he must have been a bellicose and infuriating fellow The degree to which Cellini was blind to his faults is both terrifying and oddly endearing That someone could be so unconcerned with the morality of his actions or with the justice of his behavior is an instructive lesson in human nature And that he is still likable is another lesson Cellini narrates the vilest deeds in such a mundane tone that you almost forget what he is talking about Here is Benvenuto s forth murder, the killing of Pompeo, a rival goldsmith I drew a little dagger with a sharpened edge, and breaking the line of his defenders, laid my hand upon his breast so quickly and coolly, that none of them were able to prevent me Then I aimed to strike him in the face but fright made him turn his head round and I stabbed him just beneath the ear I only gave two blows, for he fell stone dead by the second I had not meant to kill him but as the saying goes, knocks are not dealt by measure Besides the tone of that passage, the most amazing thing for me is that he aimed for Pompeo s head but professed he didn t mean to kill him The guy was seriously nuts When I reread the above excerpt, I think I ought to loathe such a man, who can both commit a murder and then talk about it so coolly But Cellini s ego and his personality are so exaggerated that I have trouble thinking of him as a real person With all his misadventures, crimes, vanities, boasts, and disputes, he seems like a character invented by Dickens or Cervantes than a man I can identify with In this, I couldn t help being reminded of Trump, who is relentlessly egotistical and cruel, but who escapes normal consequences because he seems like a caricature than a human being.Because Cellini is focused on his own doings, the world of the Renaissance stays mostly in the background Sometimes it is easy to forget the setting entirely, since Benvenuto is one of those rare, timeless personalities But at other times, the great difference between his world and mine was simply alarming One night during dinner, for example, his friend brought a prostitute out of respect for his friend, Benvenuto refused her advances but after those two went to bed, Benvenuto seduced the prostitute s 14 year old serving girl The next morning he woke up with the bubonic plague Another time, when he was sick, the best doctors in Rome instructed him that he couldn t drink any water His condition got worse and worse doubtless due to dehydration until finally, disobeying their orders, he drank a pitcher of water and felt immediately better The doctors were stunned The doctors had better luck on another occasion, though When Benvenuto got a metal splinter in his eye, a doctor successfully flushed it out by slicing open live pigeons and letting their blood rush into his eye.These are just a taste of some of Benvenuto s anecdotes His life was enviously exciting indeed it s rather amazing he lived so long, since he had many close calls with death When he wasn t being poisoned or fighting off highway bandits, he was suffering illness, injury, and imprisonment And amidst all this, he managed to attain the highest reputation and skill as an artist, and also to write the most important autobiography of his century If being a Renaissance Man means living life to the fullest, Cellini is a prime example.If you are planning on taking a trip to Italy, or just want to learn about the Renaissance, I cannot recommend this book highly enough I listened to the audiobook version while I was in Rome Cellini was narrating the time he defended the Castel Sant Angelo during the 1527 sack of Rome As Cellini boasted about his heroic deeds he would have you believe he defended the castle single handedly I turned a corner and found myself face to face with that very castle It was one of the most memorable moments of my reading life. All men who have accomplished anything worthwhile should set down the story of their own lives with their own hands But they should wait before undertaking so delicate an enterprise until they have passed the age of 40,says Benvenuto Cellini 1500 1571 in the opening chapter of this book, The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini first published in Italy in 1728 This is one of the earliest classic autobiographies in the world eclipsed only by the likes of Saint Augustine s Confessions 3 stars , Babur s The Baburnama Memoirs of Babur, Prince Emperor and Marcus Aurelius Meditations.Benvenuto Cellini was an Italian artist who became a friend to Leonardo de Vinci 1452 1519 and Michaelangelo 1475 1564 These are reasons enough for me to pick this book in a second hand bookstore a couple of years back Well, aside from the fact that this is included in the 501 Must Read Books, I enjoy reading memoirs and autobiographies especially those of world renowned personalities but for some reason, not known to me Cellini was 58 years old when he wrote this memoir or autobiography and first I thought it would be a difficult read but the edition was really easy to understand and because of the many interesting events that happened in Cellini s life and his tongue in cheek meaning, candid and honest telling of his life, the book is engaging and definitely worth reading Imagine Cellini even exposed himself in telling the murder that he committed despite the fact that he was a religious person The other interesting part of this book is the supernatural experience that he had while imprisoned in the Castle of St Angelo in Rome In particular, this autobiography should be a must read book for anybody who is interested on renaissance art because it reads like a who s who of that world Cellini was a goldsmith and a sculptor although his only popular sculptor is the bronze statue of Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa and it looks like this To read this, one wonders how Cellini survived to age 20, much less age 70 He is constantly killing and being attacked, wenching his models, contracting hideous illnesses or noting in passing the constant unexpected death of others , and being betrayed by this account or insulting others It s an endless exhausting cycle such that even Cellini had to notice its futility and danger One has to wonder how much he exaggerates aside from the demonology and weather controlling, it seems so routine for people to go around armed and attacking for minor insults and then dying of a scratch Then there is his strange attitude to his patrons on the one hand, he seems largely unable to criticize them or the system despite wallowing in their corruption and wealth surely the King of France wasn t all that , and given the sheer servility ignobility criminality of the popes he deals with, his tolerance of them is astounding , but on the other hand, he almost goes out of his way to mess with them.Well, it s fun in small doses, the constant tumult of Cellini s life suggests that the constant murder assault theft large gifts we read of in picaresques or stories like the Decameron are much realistic than we give them credit for, and it s pretty cool to look at the Wikipedia article and see images of the works he labors over at such length in his autobiography. , 1500, 1571 , 18. If you want people to be reading your autobiography almost than five hundred years later, write as entertaining a book as this one A treasure. Italians do it better, don t they Well, I think I just found myself a new role model of self confidence.Benvenuto Cellini was first and foremost a goldsmith and a sculptor, but he made himself known and appreciated also as a flute player, a draftsman and a talented writer He was nonetheless a brave soldier and a clever strategist Of course that for the most part of his autobiography he blows his own trumpet, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it It s a firsthand account of his experience in the Rome of Clement VII, the France of Francis I, and the Florence of Cosimo de Medici I m fascinated with his life and works of art He was a daredevil, who stuck at nothing to accomplish his desires even if this meant murder The story itself is fascinating, a rare glimpse into the world of a Renaissance artist larger than life Tales of early apprenticeships, family crises, exiles, revenge, plagues and invasions, imprisonments and adventurous escapes, necromancy and a legion of devils which he and a conjuror invoked in the Colosseum, mistresses, love affairs and charges of immorality, supernatural visions and angelic protection, royal and religious patronage, poisonings all this and Now I so want to visit Florence and Rome and Vienna and all the other places where his works are exhibited. Absolument g nial Ce livre va inspirer Stendhal Une vie incroyable d un contemporain de Michel ange, l onard de vinci L vasion du ch teau saint ange vaut le d tour.
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