Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE DUKE OF FLORENCE at this time, which was the month of August 1545, had retired to Poggio a Cajano, ten miles distant from Florence. Thither then I went to pay him my respects, with the sole object of acting as duty required, first because I was a Florentine, and next because my forefathers had always been adherents of the Medicean party, and I yielded to none of them in affection for this Duke Cosimo. As I have said, then, I rode to Poggio with the sole object of paying my respects, and with no intention of accepting service under him, as God, who does all things well, did then appoint for me.
When I was introduced, the Duke received me very kindly; then he and the Duchess put questions concerning the works which I had executed for the King.1 I answered willingly and in detail. After listening to my story, he answered that he had heard as much, and that I spoke the truth. Then he assumed a tone of sympathy, and added: How small a recompense for such great and noble masterpieces! Friend Benvenuto, if you feel inclined to execute something for me too, I am ready to pay you far better than that King of yours had done, for whom your excellent nature prompts you to speak so gratefully. When I understood his drift, I described the deep obligations under which I lay to his Majesty, who first obtained my liberation from that iniquitous prison, and afterwards supplied me with the means of carrying out more admirable works than any artist of my quality had ever had the chance to do. While I was thus speaking, my lord the Duke writhed on his chair, and seemed as though he could not bear to hear me to the end. Then, when I had concluded, he rejoined: If you are disposed to work for me, I will treat you in a way that will astonish you, provided the fruits of your labours give me satisfaction, of which I have no doubt. I, poor unhappy mortal, burning with desire to show the noble school2 of Florence that, after leaving her in youth, I had practised other branches of the art than she imagined, gave answer to the Duke that I would willingly erect for him in marble or in bronze a mighty statue on his fine piazza. He replied that, for a first essay, he should like me to produce a Perseus; he had long set his heart on having such a monument, and he begged me to begin a model for the same.3 I very gladly set myself to the task, and in a few weeks I finished my model, which was about a cubit high, in yellow wax and very delicately finished in all its details. I had made it with the most thorough study and art.4
The Duke returned to Florence, but several days passed before I had an opportunity of showing my model. It seemed indeed as though he had never set eyes on me or spoken with me, and this caused me to augur ill of my future dealings with his Excellency. Later on, however, one day after dinner, I took it to his wardrobe, where he came to inspect it with the Duchess and a few gentlemen of the court. No sooner had he seen it than he expressed much pleasure, and extolled it to the skies; wherefrom I gathered some hope that he might really be a connoisseur of art. After having well considered it for some time, always with greater satisfaction, he began as follows: If you could only execute this little model, Benvenuto, with the same perfection on a large scale, it would be the finest piece in the piazza. I replied: Most excellent my lord, upon the piazza are now standing works by the great Donatello and the incomparable Michel Angelo, the two greatest men who have ever lived since the days of the ancients.5 But since your Excellence encourages my model with such praise, I feel the heart to execute it at least thrice as well in bronze.6 No slight dispute arose upon this declaration; the Duke protesting that he understood these matters perfectly, and was quite aware what could be done. I rejoined that my achievements would resolve his dubitations and debates; I was absolutely sure of being able to perform far more than I had promised for his Excellency, but that he must give me means for carrying my work out, else I could not fulfil my undertaking. In return for this his Excellency bade me formulate my demands in a petition, detailing all my requirements; he would see them liberally attended to.
It is certain that if I had been cunning enough to secure by contract all I wanted for my work, I should not have incurred the great troubles which came upon me through my own fault. But he showed the strongest desire to have the work done, and the most perfect willingness to arrange preliminaries. I therefore, not discerning that he was more a merchant than a duke, dealt very frankly with his Excellency, just as if I had to do with a prince, and not with a commercial man. I sent in my petition, to which he replied in large and ample terms. The memorandum ran as follows: Most rare and excellent my patron, petitions of any validity and compacts between us of any value do not rest upon words or writings; the whole point is that I should succeed in my work according to my promise; and if I so succeed, I feel convinced that your most illustrious Excellency will very well remember what you have engaged to do for me. This language so charmed the Duke both with my ways of acting and of speaking that he and the Duchess began to treat me with extraordinary marks of favour.
Note 1. This Duchess was Eleonora di Toledo, well known to us through Bronzinos portrait. [back]
Note 2. This school was the Collegio dei Maestri di Belle Arti in Florence, who had hitherto known of Cellini mainly as a goldsmith. [back]
Note 3. Cosimo chose the subject of Perseus because it symbolised his own victory over the Gorgon of tyrannicide and Republican partisanship. Donatellos Judith, symbolising justifiable regicide, and Michel Angelos David, symbolising the might of innocent right against an overbearing usurper, already decorated the Florentine piazza. Until lately, both of these masterpieces stood together there with the Perseus of Cellini. [back]
Note 4. This is probably the precious model now existing in the Bargello Palace at Florence, in many points more interesting than the completed bronze statue under the Loggia de Lanzi. [back]
Note 5. Donatellos Judith and Holofernes; Michel Angelos David. [back]
Note 6. It is difficult to give the exact sense of pertanto and perchè in the text, but I think the drift of the sentence is rendered above. [back]