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Benvenuto Cellini

Cellini, Benvenuto (chĕlēˈnē, Ital. bānvānōˈtō chāl-lēˈnē) [key], 1500–1571, Italian sculptor, metalsmith, and author. His remarkable autobiography (written 1558–62), which reads like a picaresque novel, is one of the most important documents of the 16th cent. Cellini tells of his escapades with the frankness and consummate egoism characteristic of the Renaissance man. He was born in Florence, the son of a musician; he studied music until his 15th year, when he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. Banished from Florence after fighting a duel, he went from town to town working for local goldsmiths and in 1519 went to Rome. Under the patronage of Pope Clement VII he became known as the most skillful worker in metals of his day, producing medals, jewel settings, caskets, vases, candlesticks, metal plates, and ornaments. Imprisoned on false charges, he worked at the court of Francis I at Paris after his release. He returned to Florence (1545), remaining until his death. The decorative quality of his work, its intricate and exquisite detail, and its workmanship are typical of the best of the period. Unfortunately, most of his works have perished. The famous gold and enamel saltcellar ( Saliera ) of Francis I (Vienna Mus.) and the gold medallion of Leda and the Swan (Vienna Mus.) are perhaps the best examples of those remaining. His sculptures, most of them executed in the later Florentine period, include the colossal bronze bust of Cosimo I (Bargello); the bronze bust of Altoviti (Gardner Mus., Boston); the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Louvre); the life-size Crucifixion, a white marble Jesus on a black cross (Escorial); and the renowned Perseus with the Head of Medusa (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence), a beautifully wrought bronze statue surmounting a marble pedestal lavishly adorned with statuettes and carvings.

See translation of his autobiography by J. A. Symonds (1888; many later editions).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: European Art to 1599: Biographies


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