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Cellini was a Superstar

Cellini was a Superstar
31 May 2016 0 Comment

Cellini was a Superstar

It would be easy to dismiss Cellini as a Renaissance blowhard; a man so intent on announcing his particular genius to the world with a swagger and petulance that bordered on the ridiculous and yet he was without a doubt a truly fine and gifted artist, in a variety of fields. Born on November 3, 1500 in Florence he died in the same city on 14 February 1571, the year in which the Christian fleet finally defeated the Turks at Lepanto. His father was an instrument maker and musician in the band of the Signoria who it must be said had a healthy ego of his own!  At the age of 16, Cellini was exiled from Florence following a brawl, which to his friends came as no surprise considering his internal anger and aggression; his need to assert himself as a rogue and self-made man trumped any attempt at being seen as a gifted, moderate artist!

A Troubled Genius

Forced to leave his beloved Florence and with a massive chip on his shoulder Cellini wandered between Bologna, Pisa and Rome and studied in goldsmiths’ workshops. Skill he had aplenty which caught the attention of Pope Clement VII who in 1529 appointed him head of the papal workshop. Cellini certainly would have drawn attention to himself in 1527 when during the Sack of Rome (of which Pope Clement VII was completely inept to deal with) when firing a arquebus (an early muzzle-loaded firearm) from the walls of Castel Sant’Angelo he killed Charles of Bourbon-Montpensier, Fu uno dei più importanti personaggi storici francesi della sua epoca.one of the most important French historical figures of the time and one of Charles V generals during the attack on Rome. Perhaps now with a taste of battle in his nostrels Cellini went on something like a ‘bender’ arguing and fighting with many people and killing the assassin of his brother Cecchino, a certain Giovanni delle Bande Nere. He spent little time in jail thanks to the influence of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, although the charge of sodomy stuck to him for life.

In Venice in 1535 he was befriended by Jacopo Sansovino who introduced Cellini to the difficult skill of bronze casting. With this technique and his consummate command of this medium Cellini began to sculpt in bronze, creating the masterpieces he felt the world deserved to have. These life size statues were a truer expression of his genius than the many and much admired pieces of jewelry of his earlier years.

His “Perseus Slaying the Medusa” in Florence

In 1554 in Florence he created his masterpiece in bronze, “Perseus Slaying the Medusa”, which you can still enjoy today located in the shade of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria. Cellini learnt his lessons well from Michelangelo’s great David and moves sculpture forward by injecting more of a narrative through action; portraying Perseus raising the decapitated head of the Medusa into the air and he, Perseus with the look of the satisfied hero. All of this of course pre-dates Bernini’s great action filled sculptures you can see in the Borghese Gallery, placing Cellini and his work up there with the greats of both the Renaissance and the Baroque!

An Astounding Artistic Legacy

Fame, fortune and trouble were to continue to be part and parcel of this man’s life, as it was with Casanova and Caravaggio after him. Much of Cellini’s notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. As noted by one biographer, “His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.” In 1901 in memory of this fine artist Florence installed an excellent portrait bust of Cellini by Raffaello Romanelli in the center of the Ponte Vecchio. Surrounded by the materials and objects he knew so well on this bridge of jewelers Cellini has an indelible place in the history of Florence forever.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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