Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
ABOUT this time Bernardone Baldini,1 broker in jewels to the Duke, brought a big diamond from Venice, which weighed more than thirty-five carats. Antonio, son of Vittorio Landi, was also interested in getting the Duke to purchase it.2 The stone had been cut with a point; but since it did not yield the purity of lustre which one expects in such a diamond, its owners had cropped the point, and, in truth, it was not exactly fit for either point or table cutting.3 Our Duke, who greatly delighted in gems, though he was not a sound judge of them, held out good hopes to the rogue Bernardaccio that he would buy this stone; and the fellow, wanting to secure for himself alone the honour of palming it off upon the Duke of Florence, abstained from taking his partner Antonio Landi into the secret. Now Landi had been my intimate friend from childhood, and when he saw that I enjoyed the Dukes confidence, he called me aside (it was just before noon at a corner of the Mercato Nuovo), and spoke as follows: Benvenuto, I am convinced that the Duke will show you a diamond, which he seems disposed to buy; you will find it a big stone. Pray assist the purchase; I can give it for seventeen thousand crowns. I feel sure he will ask your advice; and if you see that he has a mind for it, we will contrive that he secures it. Antonio professed great confidence in being able to complete the bargain for the jewel at that price. In reply, I told him that if my advice was taken, I would speak according to my judgment, without prejudice to the diamond.
As I have above related, the Duke came daily into our goldsmiths workshop for several hours; and about a week after this conversation with Antonio Landi he showed me one day after dinner the diamond in question, which I immediately recognised by its description, both as to form and weight. I have already said that its water was not quite transparent, for which reason it had been cropped; so, when I found it of that kind and quality, I felt certainly disinclined to recommend its acquisition. However, I asked his Excellency what he wanted me to say; because it was one thing for jewellers to value a stone after a prince had bought it, and another thing to estimate it with a view to purchase. He replied that he bought it, and that he only wanted my opinion. I did not choose to abstain from hinting what I really thought about the stone. Then he told me to observe the beauty of its great facets.4 I answered that this feature of the diamond was not so great a beauty as his Excellency supposed, but came from the point having been cropped. At these words my prince, who perceive that I was speaking the truth, made a wry face, and bade me give good heed to valuing the stone, and saying what I thought it worth. I reckoned that, since Landi had offered it to me for 17,000 crowns, the Duke might have got it for 15,000 at the highest; so, noticing that he would take it ill if I spoke the truth, I made my mind up to uphold him in his false opinion, and handing back the diamond, said: You will probably have paid 18,000 crowns. On hearing this the Duke uttered a loud Oh! opening his mouth as wide as a well, and cried out: Now am I convinced that you understand nothing about the matter. I retorted: You are certainly in the wrong there, my lord. Do you attend to maintaining the credit of your diamond, while I attend to understanding my trade. But pray tell me at least how much you paid, in order that I may learn to understand it according to the way of your Excellency. The Duke rose, and, with a little sort of angry grin, replied: Twenty-five thousand crowns and more, Benvenuto, did that stone cost me!
Having thus spoken he departed. Giovanpagolo and Domenico Poggini, the goldsmiths, were present; and Bachiacca, the embroiderer, who was working in an adjacent room, ran up at the noise.5 I told them that I should never have advised the Duke to purchase it; but if his heart was set on having it, Antonio Landi had offered me the stone eight days ago for 17,000 crowns. I think I could have got it for 15,000 or less. But the Duke apparently wishes to maintain his gem in credit; for when Antonio Landi was willing to let it go at that price, how the devil can Bernardone have played off such a shameful trick upon his Excellency? Never imagining that the matter stood precisely as the Duke averred, we laughingly made light of his supposed credulity.
Note 1. Varchi and Ammirato both mention him as an excellent jeweller. [back]
Note 2. Antonio Landi was a Florentine gentleman, merchant, and author. A comedy of his called Commodo is extant. [back]
Note 3. Italians distinguished cut diamonds of three sorts: in tavola, a faccette, and in punta. The word I have translated cropped is ischericato, which was properly applied to an unfrocked or degraded ecclesiastic. [back]
Note 4. Filetti, the sharp lines which divide one facet from another. [back]
Note 5. Antonio Ubertini, called Il Bachiacca, a brother of Cellinis friend in Rome. See p. 56. He enjoyed great reputation, and was praised by Varchi in a sonnet for his mastery of embroidery. [back]