Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
AS I have said, my father was the devoted servant and attached friend of the house of Medici; and when Piero was banished, he entrusted him with many affairs of the greatest possible importance. Afterwards, when the magnificent Piero Soderini was elected, and my father continued in his office of musician, Soderini, perceiving his wonderful talent, began to employ him in many matters of great importance as an engineer.1 So long as Soderini remained in Florence, he showed the utmost good-will to my father; and in those days, I being still of tender age, my father had me carried, and made me perform upon the flute; I used to play treble in concert with the musicians of the palace before the Signory, following my notes: and a beadle used to carry me upon his shoulders. The Gonfalonier, that is, Soderini, whom I have already mentioned, took much pleasure in making me chatter, and gave me comfits, and was wont to say to my father: Maestro Giovanni, besides music, teach the boy those other arts which do you so much honour. To which my father answered: I do not wish him to practise any art but playing and composing; for in this profession I hope to make him the greatest man of the world, if God prolongs his life. To these words one of the old counsellors made answer: Ah! Maestro Giovanni, do what the Gonfalonier tells you! for why should he never become anything more than a good musician?
Thus some time passed, until the Medici returned.2 When they arrived, the Cardinal, who afterwards became Pope Leo, received my father very kindly. During their exile the scutcheons which were on the palace of the Medici had had their balls erased, and a great red cross painted over them, which was the bearing of the Commune.3 Accordingly, as soon as they returned, the red cross was scratched out, and on the scutcheon the red balls and the golden field were painted in again, and finished with great beauty. My father, who possessed a simple vein of poetry, instilled in him by nature, together with a certain touch of prophecy, which was doubtless a divine gift in him, wrote these four verses under the said arms of the Medici, when they were uncovered to the view:
These arms, which have so long from sight been laid
Beneath the holy cross, that symbol meek,
Now lift their glorious glad face, and seek
With Peters sacred cloak to be arrayed.
This epigram was read by all Florence. A few days afterwards Pope Julius II. died. The Cardinal de Medici went to Rome, and was elected Pope against the expectation of everybody. He reigned as Leo X, that generous and great soul. My father sent him his four prophetic verses. The Pope sent to tell him to come to Rome; for this would be to his advantage. But he had no will to go; and so, in lieu of reward, his place in the palace was taken from him by Jacopo Salviati, upon that mans election as Gonfalonier.4 This was the reason why I commenced goldsmith; after which I spent part of my time in learning that art, and part in playing, much against my will.
Note 1. Piero Soderini was elected Gonfalonier of the Florentine Republic for life in the year 1502. After nine years of government, he was banished, and when he died, Machiavelli wrote the famous sneering epitaph upon him. See J. A. Symonds Renaissance in Italy, vol. i. p. 297. [back]
Note 2. This was in 1512, when Lorenzos two sons, Giuliano and Giovanni (afterwards Pope Leo X), came back through the aid of a Spanish army, after the great battle at Ravenna. [back]
Note 3. The Medicean arms were or, six pellets gules, three, two, and one. The Florentine Commune bore, argent a cross gules. [back]
Note 4. Cellini makes a mistake here. Salviati married a daughter of Lorenzo de Medici, and obtained great influence in Florence; but we have no record of his appointment to the office of Gonfalonier. [back]