Benvenuto Cellini, the great Italian jeweller, sculptor and engraver, was one of the most interesting men of the sixteenth century, and wrote one of the most exciting and graphic autobiographies ever written. So why do we need a book about his life?
While Cellini wrote very vividly about many aspects of his life – including the time when he fought for the Pope to defend the Castel San’Angelo under siege, his slaughter of two men in street brawls, his execution of the man who assassinated his younger brother – there were aspects of his life which he either left out of his autobiography or heavily disguised. This was understandable, for he lived at a time when disobedience or even hasty words which offended a powerful patron might result in poverty or even death; and when the torture and death could result from disobedience of the law. Since the book, or part of it, was published during his lifetime, Cellini had to be careful, omitting from his book the details of his many affairs with his young models – made as well as female – and for the sake of posterity he also left out details of the prosecutions brought against him for sodomy. Reading between the lines, and using other contemporary sources, Derek Parker fills out the story, revealing for instance the affairs Cellini had with the models – male and female – for his great sculptured figures.
There were also other details to be discovered: the real names of some of the characters about whom Cellini wrote, and the secret personalities of others. Renaissance Florence was an exciting and stimulating place in which to live: many of the most beautiful art works in the world were created then and there – and other artists also appear in this book: from the great Michelangelo, Cellini’s hero, whose David provided the stimulus for the wonderful statue of Perseus which still looks down on tourists who walk through the main square of the city, to other lesser men such as the sculptor Bandini, whose jealousy might have put paid to the career of a lesser man than the hero of this book. Then there is the history of Cellini’s time in Fontainelbeau and his quarrels with King Louis and his volatile mistress.
Looking at one of the busts Cellini created, Michelangelo said ‘You were the greatest goldsmith we have ever heard of, and now I know that you have equal talent as a sculptor.’ It was time for a thoroughly up-to-date, modern look at the life of this astonishing man and great artist – and here it is.