John Addington Symonds.

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contemplating savage scenery was unknown to the Italians of the sixteenth
century; the height and cold, the gloom and solitude of mountains struck
them with a sense of terror or of dreariness. On the Lake of Wallenstadt
Cellini met with a party of Germans, whom he hated as cordially as an
Athenian of the age of Pericles might have loathed the Scythians for their
barbarism.[372] The Italians embarked in one boat, the Germans in
another; Cellini being under the impression that the Northern lakes would
not be so likely to drown him as those of his own country. However, when a
storm swept down the hills, he took a terrible fright, and compelled the
boatmen at the point of the poniard to put him and his company ashore. The
description of their struggles to drag their heavily laden horses over the
uneven ground near Wesen, is extremely graphic, and gives a good notion of
the dangers of the road in those days.[373] That night they "heard the
watch sing at all hours very agreeably; and as the houses of that town
were all of wood, he kept bidding them to take care of their fires." Next
day they arrived, not without other accidents, at Zurich, "a marvellous
city, as clear and polished as a jewel." Thence by Solothurn, Lausanne,
Geneva, and Lyons, they made their way to Paris.

This long and troublesome journey led to nothing, for Cellini grew weary
of following the French Court about from place to place; his health too
failed him, and he decided that he would rather die in Italy than
France.[374] Accordingly he returned to Rome, and there, not long after
his arrival, he was arrested by the order of Pope Paul III.[375] The
charge against him, preferred by one of his own prentices, was this.
During the siege of Rome, he had been employed by Clement to melt down the
tiaras and papal ornaments, in order that the precious stones might be
conveyed away in secrecy. He did so; and afterwards confessed to having
kept a portion of the gold filings found in the cinders of his brazier
during the operation. For this crime Clement gave him absolution.[376]
Now, however, he was accused of having stolen gold and jewels to the
amount of nearly eighty thousand ducats. "The avarice of the Pope, but
more that of his bastard, then called Duke of Castro," inclined Paul to
believe this charge; and Pier Luigi was allowed to farm the case. Cellini
was examined by the Governor of Rome and two assessors; in spite of his
vehement protestations of innocence, the absence of any evidence against
him, and the sound arguments adduced in his defence, he was committed to
the castle of S. Angelo. When he received his sentence, he called heaven
and earth to witness, thanking God that he had "the happiness not to be
confined for some error of his sinful nature, as generally happens to
young men." Whereupon "the brute of a Governor replied, Yet you have
killed enough men in your time." This remark was pertinent; but it
provoked a torrent of abuse and a long enumeration of his services from
the virtuous Cellini.

The account of this imprisonment, and especially of the hypochondriacal
Governor who thought he was a bat and used to flap his arms and squeak
when night was coming on, is highly entertaining.[377] Not less
interesting is the description of Cellini's daring escape from the castle.
In climbing over the last wall, he fell and broke his leg, and was carried
by a waterman to the palace of the Cardinal Cornaro. There he lay in
hiding, visited by all the rank and fashion of Rome, who were not a little
curious to see the hero of so perilous an escapade. Cornaro promised to
secure his pardon, but eventually exchanged him for a bishopric. This
remarkable proceeding illustrates the manners of the Papal Court. The
cardinal wanted a benefice for one of his followers, and the Pope wished
to get his son's enemy once more into his power. So the two ecclesiastics
bargained together, and by mutual kind offices attained their several

Cellini with his broken leg went back to languish in his prison. He found
the flighty Governor furious because he had "flown away," eluding his
bat's eyes and wings. The rigour used towards him made him dread the worst
extremities. Cast into a condemned cell, he first expected to be flayed
alive; and when this terror was removed, he perceived the crystals of a
pounded jewel in his food. According to his own account of this mysterious
circumstance, Messer Durante Duranti of Brescia, one of Cellini's numerous
enemies, had given a diamond of small value to be broken up and mixed with
a salad served to him at dinner. The jeweller to whom this charge was
entrusted, kept the diamond and substituted a beryl, thinking that the
inferior stone would have the same murderous properties. To the avarice of
this man Cellini attributed his escape from a lingering death by
inflammation of the mucous membrane.[378]

During his first imprisonment he had occupied a fair chamber in the upper
turret of the castle. He was now removed to a dungeon below ground where
Fra Fojano, the reformer, had been starved to death. The floor was wet and
infested with crawling creatures. A few reflected sunbeams slanting from a
narrow window for two hours of the afternoon, was all the light that
reached him. Here he lay, alone, unable to move because of his broken leg,
with his hair and teeth falling away, and with nothing to occupy him but a
Bible and a volume of Villani's "Chronicles." His spirit, however, was
indomitable; and the passionate energy of the man, hitherto manifested in
ungoverned acts of fury, took the form of ecstasy. He began the study of
the Bible from the first chapter of Genesis, and trusting firmly to the
righteousness of his own cause, compared himself to all the saints and
martyrs of Scripture, men of whom the world was not worthy. He sang
psalms, prayed continually, and composed a poem in praise of his prison.
With a piece of charcoal he made a great drawing of angels surrounding God
the Father on the wall. Once only his courage gave way: he determined on
suicide, and so placed a beam that it should fall on him like a trap. When
all was ready, an unseen hand took violent hold of him, and dashed him on
the ground at a considerable distance. From this moment his dungeon was
visited by angels, who healed his broken leg, and reasoned with him of

The mention of these visions reminds us that Cellini had become acquainted
with Savonarola's writings during his first imprisonment.[379] Impressed
with the grandeur of the prophet's dreams, and exalted by the reading of
the Bible, he no doubt mistook his delirious fancies for angelic visitors,
and in the fervour of his enthusiasm laid claim to inspiration. One of
these hallucinations is particularly striking. He had prayed that he might
see the sun at least in trance, if it were impossible that he should look
on it again with waking eyes. But, while awake and in possession of his
senses, he was hurried suddenly away and carried to a room, where the
invisible power sustaining him appeared in human shape, "like a youth
whose beard is but just growing, with a face most marvellous, fair, but of
austere and far from wanton beauty." In that room were all the men who had
ever lived and died on earth; and thence they two went together, and came
into a narrow street, one side whereof was bright with sunlight. Then
Cellini asked the angel how he might behold the sun; and the angel pointed
to certain steps upon the side of a house. Up these Cellini climbed, and
came into the full blaze of the sun, and, though dazzled by its
brightness, he gazed steadfastly and took his fill. While he looked, the
rays fell away upon the left side and the disk shone like a bath of molten
gold. This surface swelled, and from the glory came the figure of a
Christ upon the cross, which moved and stood beside the rays. Again the
surface swelled, and from the glory came the figure of Madonna and her
Child; and at the right hand of the sun there knelt S. Peter in his
sacerdotal robes, pleading Cellini's cause; and "full of shame that such
foul wrong should be done to Christians in his house." This vision
marvellously strengthened Cellini's soul, and he began to hope with
confidence for liberty. When free again, he modelled the figures he had
seen in gold.

The religious phase in Cellini's history requires some special comment,
since it is precisely at this point that he most faithfully personifies
the spirit of his age and nation. That he was a devout Catholic there is
no question. He made two pilgrimages to Loreto, and another to S. Francis
of Vernia. To S. Lucy he dedicated a golden eye after his recovery from an
illness. He was, moreover, always anxious to get absolution from the Pope.
More than this; he continually sustained himself at the great crises of
his life, when in peril of imprisonment, while defending himself against
assassins, and again on the eve of casting his "Perseus," by direct and
passionate appeals to God. Yet his religion had but little effect upon his
life; and he often used it as a source of moral strength in doing deeds
repugnant to real piety. Like love, he put it off and on quite easily,
reverting to it when he found himself in danger or bad spirits, and
forgetting it again when he was prosperous. Thus in the dungeon of S.
Angelo he vowed to visit the Holy Sepulchre if God would grant him to
behold the sun. This vow he forgot until he met with disappointment at the
Court of Francis, and then he suddenly determined to travel to Jerusalem.
The offer of a salary of seven hundred crowns restored his spirits, and he
thought no more about his vow.

While he loved his life so dearly and indulged so freely in the pleasures
of this earth, he made a virtue of necessity as soon as death approached,
crying, "The sooner I am delivered from the prison of this world, the
better; especially as I am sure of salvation, being unjustly put to
death." His good opinion of himself extended to the certainty he felt of
heaven. Forgetting his murders and debaucheries, he sustained his courage
with devotion when all other sources failed. As to the divine government
of the world, he halted between two opinions. Whether the stars or
Providence had the upper hand, he could not clearly say; but by the stars
he understood a power antagonistic to his will, by Providence a force that
helped him to do what he liked. There is a similar confusion in his mind
about the Pope. He goes to Clement submissively for absolution from
homicide and theft, saying, "I am at the feet of your Holiness, who have
the full power of absolving, and I request you to give me permission to
confess and communicate, that I may with your favour be restored to the
divine grace." He also tells Paul that the sight of Christ's vicar, in
whom there is an awful representation of the divine Majesty, makes him
tremble. Yet at another time he speaks of Clement being "transformed to a
savage beast," and talks of him as "that poor man Pope Clement."[380] Of
Paul he says that he "believed neither in God nor in any other article of
religion;" he sincerely regrets not having killed him by accident during
the siege of Rome, abuses him for his avarice, casts his bastards in his
teeth, and relates with relish the crime of forgery for which in his youth
he was imprisoned in the castle of S. Angelo.[381] Indeed, the Italians
treated the Pope as negroes treat their fetishes. If they had cause to
dislike him, they beat and heaped insults on him - like the Florentines who
described Sixtus IV. as "leno matris suae, adulterorum minister, diaboli
vicarius," and his spiritual offspring as "simonia, luxus, homicidium,
proditio, haeresis." On the other hand, they really thought that he could
open heaven and shut the gates of hell.

At the end of the year 1539, the Cardinal Ippolito d'Este appeared in Rome
with solicitations from Francis I. that the Pope would release Cellini and
allow him to enter his service.[382] Upon this the prison door was opened.
Cellini returned to his old restless life of violence and pleasure. We
find him renewing his favourite pastimes - killing, wantoning, disputing
with his employers, and working diligently at his trade. The temporary
saint and visionary becomes once more the bravo and the artist. A more
complete parallel to the consequences of revivalism in Italy could not be
found.[383] Meanwhile the first period of his history is closed and the
second begins.

Cellini's account of his residence in France has much historical interest
besides the charm of its romance. When he first joined the Court, he found
Francis travelling from city to city with a retinue of eighteen thousand
persons and twelve thousand horses. Frequently they came to places where
no accommodation could be had, and the suite were lodged in wretched
tents. It is not wonderful that Cellini should complain of the French
being less civilised than the Italians of his time. Francis among his
ladies and courtiers, pretending to a knowledge of the arts, sauntering
with his splendid train into the goldsmith's workshop, encouraging
Cellini's violence with a boyish love of mischief, vain and flattered,
peevish, petulant, and fond of show, appears upon these pages with a
life-like vividness.[384] When the time came for settling in Paris, the
King presented his goldsmith with a castle called Le Petit Nesle, and made
him lord thereof by letters of naturalisation. This house stood where the
Institute has since been built; of its extent we may judge from the number
of occupations carried on within its precincts when Cellini entered into
possession. He found there a tennis-court, a distillery, a printing press,
and a factory of saltpetre, besides residents engaged in other trades.
Cellini's claims were resisted. Probably the occupiers did not relish the
intrusion of a foreigner. So he stormed the place and installed himself by
force of arms. Similar violence was needed in order to maintain himself in
possession; but this Cellini loved, and had he been let alone, it is
probable he would have died of _ennui_.

Difficulties of all kinds, due in part to his ungovernable temper, in part
to his ill-regulated life, in part to his ignorance of French habits,
gathered round him. He fell into disfavour with Madame d'Estampes, the
mistress of the King; and here it may be mentioned that many of his
troubles arose from his inability to please noble women.[385] Proud,
self-confident, overbearing, and unable to command his words or actions,
Cellini was unfitted to pay court to princes. Then again he quarrelled
with his brother artists, and made the Bolognese painter, Primaticcio, his
enemy. After being attacked by assassins and robbers on more than one
occasion, he was involved in two lawsuits. He draws a graphic picture of
the French courts of justice, with their judge as grave as Plato, their
advocates all chattering at once, their perjured Norman witnesses, and the
ushers at the doors vociferating _Paix, paix, Satan, allez, paix_. In this
cry Cellini recognised the gibberish at the beginning of the seventh
canto of Dante's "Inferno." But the most picturesque group in the whole
scene presented to us is that made by Cellini himself, armed and mailed,
and attended by his prentices in armour, as they walked into the court to
browbeat justice with the clamour of their voice. If we are to trust his
narrative, he fought his way out of one most dangerous trial by simple
vociferation. Afterwards he took the law, as usual, into his own hands.
One pair of litigants were beaten; Caterina was nearly kicked to death;
and the attorneys were threatened with the sword.

In the midst of these disturbances, Cellini began some important works for
Francis. At Paris the King employed him to make huge silver candelabra,
and at Fontainebleau to restore the castle gate. For the château of
Fontainebleau Cellini executed the nymph in bronze, reclining among
trophies of the chase, which may still be seen in the Louvre. It is a
long-limbed, lifeless figure, without meaning - a snuff-box ornament
enlarged to a gigantic size. Francis, who cannot have had good taste in
art, if what Cellini makes him say be genuine, admired these designs above
the bronze copies of the Vatican marbles he had recently received. He
seems to have felt some personal regard for Benvenuto, and to have done
all he could to retain him in his service. The animosity of Madame
d'Estampes, and a grudge against his old patron, Ippolito d'Este, however,
determined the restless craftsman to quit Paris. Leaving his castle, his
unfinished works, and other property behind him in the care of Ascanio,
his friend and pupil, he returned alone to Italy. This step, taken in a
moment of restless pique, was ever after regretted by Cellini, who looked
back with yearning from Florence to the generosity of Francis.

Cosimo de' Medici was indeed a very different patron from Francis.
Cautious, little-minded, meddling, with a true Florentine's love of
bargaining and playing cunning tricks, he pretended to protect the arts,
but did not understand the part he had assumed. He was always short of
money, and surrounded by old avaricious servants, through whose hands his
meagre presents passed. As a connoisseur, he did not trust his own
judgment, thus laying himself open to the intrigues of inferior artists.
Henceforward a large part of Cellini's time was wasted in wrangling with
the Duke's steward, squabbling with Bandinelli and Ammanati, and
endeavouring to overcome the coldness or to meet the vacillations of his
patron. Those who wish to gain insight into the life of an artist at Court
in the sixteenth century, will do well to study attentively the chapters
devoted by Cellini to his difficulties with the Duchess, and his wordy
warfares with Bandinelli.[386] This atmosphere of intrigue and animosity
was not uncongenial to Benvenuto; and as far as words and blows went, he
almost always got the best of it. Nothing, for example, could be keener
and more cutting than the very just criticism he made in Bandinelli's
presence of his "Hercules and Cacus." "Quel bestial buaccio Bandinello,"
as he delights to name him, could do nothing but retort with vulgar terms
of insult.[387]

The great achievement of this third period was the modelling and casting
of the "Perseus." No episode in Cellini's biography is narrated with more
force than the climax to his long-protracted labours, when at last, amid
the chaos and confusion of innumerable accidents, the metal in his furnace
liquefied and filled the mould. After the statue was uncovered in the
Loggia de' Lanzi, where it now stands, Cellini achieved a triumph
adequate to his own highest expectations. Odes and sonnets in Italian,
Greek, and Latin, were written in its praise. Pontormo and Bronzino, the
painters, loaded it with compliments. Cellini, ruffling with hand on hilt
in silks and satins through the square, was pointed out to foreigners as
the great sculptor who had cast the admirable bronze. It was, in truth, no
slight distinction for a Florentine artist to erect a statue beneath the
Loggia de' Lanzi in the square of the Signory. Every great event in
Florentine history had taken place on that piazza. Every name of
distinction among the citizens of Florence was connected with its
monuments. To this day we may read the course of Florentine art by
studying its architecture and sculpture; and not the least of its many
ornaments, in spite of all that may be said against it, is the "Perseus"
of Cellini.

Cellini completed the "Perseus" in 1554. His autobiography is carried down
to the year 1562, when it abruptly terminates. It appears that in 1558 he
received the tonsure and the first ecclesiastical orders; but two years
later on he married a wife, and died at the age of sixty-nine, leaving
three legitimate children. He was buried honourably, and a funeral oration
was pronounced above his bier in the Chapter House of the Annunziata.

As a man, Cellini excites more interest than as an artist; and for this
reason I have refrained from entering into minute criticism of his few
remaining masterpieces. It has been well said that the two extremes of
society, the statesman and the craftsman, find their point of meeting in
Machiavelli and Cellini, inasmuch as both recognise no moral authority but
the individual will.[388] The _virtù_, extolled by Machiavelli is
exemplified by Cellini. Machiavelli bids his prince ignore the laws;
Cellini respects no tribunal and takes justice into his own hands. The
word conscience does not occur in Machiavelli's phraseology of ethics;
conscience never makes a coward of Cellini, and in the dungeons of S.
Angelo he is visited by no remorse. If we seek a literary parallel for the
statesman and the artist in their idealisation of force and personal
character, we find it in Pietro Aretino. In him, too, conscience is
extinct; for him, also, there is no respect of King or Pope; he has placed
himself above law, and substituted his own will for justice. With his pen,
as Cellini with his dagger, he assassinates; his cynicism serves him for a
coat of armour. And so abject is society, so natural has tyranny become,
that he extorts blackmail from monarchs, makes princes tremble, and
receives smooth answers to his insults from Buonarroti. These three men,
Machiavelli, Cellini, and Aretino, each in his own line, and with the
proper differences that pertain to philosophic genius, artistic skill, and
ribald ruffianism, sufficiently indicate the dissolution of the social
bond in Italy. They mark their age as the age of adventurers, bandits,
bullies, Ishmaelites, and tyrants.


[345] "In lode e onor della vita sua e opere d'esso, e buona disposizione
della anima e del corpo." _La Vita di Benvenuto Cellini_, Firenze, Le
Monnier, 1852; _Documenti_, p. 578.

[346] I do not by this mean to commit myself to the opinion that Cellini
is accurate in details or truthful. On the contrary, it is impossible to
read his life without feeling that his vanity and self-esteem led him to
exaggeration and mis-statement. The value of the biography consists in
its picturesqueness, its brilliant and faithful colouring, and its
unconscious self-revelation of an energetic character.

[347] With regard to his pedigree Cellini tells a ridiculous story about
a certain Fiorino da Cellino, one of Julius Caesar's captains, who gave
his name to Florence. For the arms of the Cellini family, see lib. i.
cap. 50.

[348] To enlarge upon this point is hardly necessary; or it would be easy
to prove from documentary evidence that artists so eminent as Simone
Martini, Gentile da Fabriano, Perugino, and Ghirlandajo kept open shops,
where customers could buy the products of their craft from a
highly-finished altar-piece down to a painted buckler or a sign to hang
above the street-door. The commercial status of fine art in Italy was
highly beneficial to its advancement, inasmuch as it implied a thorough
technical apprenticeship for learners. The defective side of the system
was apparent in great workshops like that of Raphael, who undertook
painting-commissions quite beyond his powers of conscientious execution.

[349] See above, Chapter III, Orcagna's Tabernacle.

[350] See lib. ii. cap. 5, for the description of Francis I. visiting
Cellini in his work-room. He finds him hammering away at the metal, and
suggests that he might leave that labour to his prentices. Cellini
replies that the excellence of his work would suffer if he did not do it

[351] See Yriarte, _Vie d'un Gentilhomme de Venise_, p. 439, for a
process instituted by the Inquisition against Paolo Veronese.

[352] He calls it "un chiavaquore di argento, il quale era in quei tempi
chiamato cosi. Questo si era una cintura di tre dita larga, che alle
spose novelle s' usava di fare."

[353] "Si come un toro invelenito."

[354] "Living men have felt my blows: those many maimed and mutilated
stones one sees, attest to your disgrace: the earth hides my bad work."
See the lines quoted by Perkins, _Tuscan Sculptors_, vol. ii. p. 140.

[355] Lib. i. cap. 79.

[356] Lib. ii. cap. 34. The whole history of this woman Caterina, and of
the revenge he took upon her and his prentice Paolo, is one of the most
extraordinary passages in the life.

[357] See Vol. 1., _Age of the Despots_, pp. 377-380.

[358] See Vol. 1., _Age of the Despots_, pp. 362-363.

[359] This might be further illustrated by analysing Cellini's mode of
loving. He never rises above animal appetite.

[360] Lib. i. cap. 85. "Nel qual vomito mi usci dello stomaco un verme
piloso, grande un quarto di braccio: e' peli erano grandi ed il verme era

Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 29 of 33)