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The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1728)

by Benvenuto Cellini

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Benvenuto Cellini was born in the year 1500 in Florence, and he begins to write this autobiography in 1558, before his death in 1572. This is a fantastic setting as it is here that the Renaissance began, and at the time of writiting it is about mid-way through and in full swing.
Cellini as a sculptor and goldsmith associates with a number of well known artists, including Michaelangelo, who was much older than him, and among others the painters Guilio Romano and Georgio Vasari, who were his contemporaries. He befriends, receives comissions from, and gets on the wrong side of various of the Medicis, Popes, and the King of France. Not content with being a talented and inspired artist, he also forays into battle - at one point leading a defence of the Vatican by firing cannons from its roof during the sack of Rome. His conflicts do not end there, and he seems to have the unfortunate talent of attracting people who are out to swindle or kill him, which he takes no small pleasure in dealing with, be they inn-keepers, rival sculptors, dukes or Popes.
Cellini is not shy in telling us how amazing his exploits and artistic achievements are, in fact he is an archetypal teller of tall tales and self agrandisements. From what remains of his works, such as the sculpture of Perseus holding the decapitated Medusa's head in the Loggia in Florence, we know that he has at least some justification to his claims, and it is difficult to pin him down on many definite fabrications, however unlikely many of his claims are. One such tale involves him escaping a castle where he has been imprisoned for years, by scaling its walls using tied-together bed sheets, however we know that he was imprisoned at least once and did escape, so it is just possible that many of his daring escapades are largely true, however fantastic his telling of them are. One story however that he won't get away with is the time he joined a necromancer in summoning demons in the Colliseum in Rome, but he seems quite convinced in his telling of it nonetheless.
This is probably one of the most exciting and revealing biographies ever written. It is not only entertaining on a pure action movie level, but also from a historical perspective in his gossipy dealings with everyone from Popes, dukes and Kings, to how he got on with his artistic contemporaries, workmen, and wenches. This autobiography would therefore appeal to almost anyone with a vagure interest in Italy, Art, History, scandal, or derring-do. ( )
2 vote P_S_Patrick | Jun 11, 2017 |
A very egotistical account of a real Renaissance man. Benvenuto did have many adventures, and this is his version of them all. Not a man who did much soul searching, but he covers his prison break, and his possible killing of a prince. The format is repetitive in his description of his working life, but it is justly deemed a classic early biography. You might want to follow this book with the "History of Bayard" by "A loyal Servitor" for proof that the autobiographical form was evolving quickly at this time. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Dec 29, 2014 |
What a blow-hard! But easy to read and one falls in love with this character. Another take on the Renaissance from one living in it and contributing his art to it. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Benvenuto Cellini was a 16th century sculptor and goldsmith, born in Florence at the height of the Renaissance. His talents were in demand; he worked at both the court of King Francis I of France and for Pope Clement VII in Rome. However, Cellini was not only an artist. He was also a musician and a soldier, and toward the end of his life Cellini penned his memoirs. His detailed autobiography is a rare firsthand account of 16th century life written by an artist.

He writes of his childhood in Florence. Cellini’s father wanted him to become a musician, but the young boy wanted to work with gold. His skill with the flute and with metalwork couldn’t keep teenaged Cellini out of trouble – at sixteen, he was banished from after stirring up trouble with his friends. He continued to hone his talents, and by nineteen he was in Rome, working for a bishop. But Cellini is about as far from the sensitive artist trope as one can get. He is constantly getting into fights, ranging from petty sniping with his artistic rivals to violent street brawls. By his mid-thirties Cellini has killed four men and imprisoned (not for the murders, but for embezzlement) Castel Sant’Angelo. He is eventually released and moves on to France, creating great works for the king. But his hot temper and inability to avoid making enemies constantly lands him in trouble, and after a few years Cellini returns to Italy.

This man is one of the greatest braggarts to ever write about his life. Everything he does is amazing: no one makes greater sculptures, no one is a better soldier, no is a better arbiter of taste. He brags that he learned his art from none but the greatest Florentine of them all, Michelangelo. He’s a ladies’ man, bedding wenches as easily as he impresses kings and popes with his coin designs. Although many of his adventures are clearly being viewed through rose-tinted glasses, there’s enough detail and enough about Cellini’s character is revealed that I’m pretty sure he never flat-out lies to his reader.

He comes across as a rather lovable rogue in spite of his manifest character flaws. I mean, this is a man who killed another on a Good Friday because of a dispute over a saddle. He’s no saint, although at one point he claims to experience a mystical vision. Yet his colloquial chatter, bombastic and flamboyant as it is, somehow smoothly convinces you that he is divinely inspired and everything is fine. He’s just…fun, the Jack Sparrow of his day, and let’s face it – fun isn’t the word one usually uses to describe books written four and a half centuries ago. ( )
2 vote makaiju | Aug 26, 2012 |
Great read. Worth waiting for. Wonderful illustrations ( )
1 vote carterchristian1 | Jul 4, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
"I highly recommend Cellini to all comers."
added by jodi | editThe Spirit Ring (Author's Note, p369), Lois McMaster Bujold (Jan 9, 1992)
 

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cellini, Benvenutoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfred, Lt. Col.Adaptorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bondanella, Julia ConawayTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bondanella, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bull, George AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conrad, HeinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cordié, CarloEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craven, ThomasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dalí, SalvadorIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidow, Leonardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ekserdjian, DavidNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eliot, Charles WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fenton, JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Halonen, MaijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kredel, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacDonell, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prechtl, Michael MathiasIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Symonds, John AddingtonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Your lordship tells me that the simple discourse of my Life contents you more in its first shape than were it polished and retouched by others - for then the truth of what I have written would show less clear; and I have taken great care to say nothing of things for which I should have had to fumble in my memory.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140440496, Mass Market Paperback)

Benvenuto Cellini tells the story of his life as a hot-tempered rebel and outstanding sculptor in Renaissance Italy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:33 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Master Italian sculptor, goldsmith, and writer, Benvenuto Cellini is best remembered for his magnificent autobiography. In this work which was actually begun in 1558 but not actually published until 1730, Cellini beautifully chronicles his own flamboyant times. He tells of his adventures in Italy and France, his relations with popes and kings and with fellow artists. From Florence and Pisa to Siena and Rome, Cellini portrays a tumultuous period-the age of Galileo, Michelangelo and the Medicis-with an artist's eye for detail, and a curmudgeon's propensity for criticism. Cellini, according to his autobiographical account, seems to have lived a very full and active life, and his account of his exploits, though grandiloquent and somewhat suspect, are always entertaining. Renaissance historians such as Burkhardt were strongly influenced by this work, seeing it as confirmation that the key to the period is the emergence of modern individualism.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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