ONE of the most remarkable autobiographies ever given to the .world is that written by Benvenuto Cellini. An artist of rare gifts and consummate master of the goldsmith’s craft, Cellini was hardly a great sculptor ; a man of many faults, rash, full of conceit, arrogant, quarrelsome, he was ” a mad-cap who firmly believed he was wise, circumspect, and prudent.” His passionate and vindictive spirit thought it but right to revenge itself on an enemy either bravely in the open or by taking him at a disadvantage, yet when we remember the corrupt age in which Cellini lived and the evil examples set before him by personages of the highest rank, we are constrained to find some excuse for his conduct.
At all events, however much we may and must condemn many of his acts, we cannot but admire his genius and energy, and the frankness with which he tells the story of his romantic career.
In Robert-Fleury’s picture of our artist-bravo, we see Cellini as he sits in his studio brooding darkly over some real or fancied wrong and thinking how he may best re-quite it.
As an instance of Cellini’s revengeful spirit, we will mention the account of his brother’s death and the way it was revenged. It appears that our artist had a younger brother named Francesco, about twenty five years old, who was a soldier in the service of Duke Alessandro de Medici in Rome. Seeing one day a former comrade being taken to prison by the guard of the Bargello, four brisk young blades of Francesco’s company were induced by their captain to attempt a rescue. They attacked the constables, and during the fight which ensued, Bertino Aldobrandi, an intimate friend of Francesco’s, was seriously wounded.
Francesco coming up and being told that his friend was killed, rushed after the guard and ran through the body the soldier who had wounded Bertino. Turning then upon the other constables, an arquebusier whom he was about to strike fired in self-defence (as Cellini himself says) and hit Francesco in the thigh. Of this wound he soon afterward died, and Cellini vowed to revenge him. He writes : ” I took to watching the arquebusier who shot my brother, as though he had been a girl I was in love with. The man had formerly been in the light cavalry, but afterward had joined the arquebusiers as one of the Bargello’s corporals ; and what increased my rage was that he had used these boastful words : ‘ If it had not been for me, who killed that brave young man, the least trifle of delay would have resulted in his putting us all to flight with great disaster.’ When I saw that the fever caused by always seeing him about was depriving me of sleep and appetite, and was bringing me by degrees to sorry plight, I overcame my repugnance to so low and not quite praiseworthy an enterprise, and made up my mind one evening to rid myself of the torment. The fellow lived in a house near a place called Torre Sanguigua. It had just struck twenty-four, and he was standing at the house-door, with his sword in hand, having risen from supper. With great address I stole up to him, holding a large Pistojan dagger, and dealt him a back-handed stroke, with which I meant to cut his head clean off, but as he turned round very suddenly; the blow fell upon the point of his Ieft shoulder and broke the bone. He sprang up, dropped his sword, half-stunned with the great pain, and took to flight. I followed after, and in four steps caught him up, when I lifted my dagger above his head, which he was holding very low, and hit him in the back exactly at the junction of the nape-bone and the neck. The poniard entered this point so deep into the bone, that, though I used all my strength to pull it out, I was not able. For just at that moment four soldiers with drawn swords sprang out from the next house and obliged me to set hand to my own sword to defend my life. Leaving the poniard then, I made off, and fearing I might be recognized, took refuge in the palace of Duke Alessandro, which was between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.”
At another time, having some cause for enmity against Pompeo, a Milanese jeweller in the papal service, Cellini relates that he followed his rival, who was “attended by ten men very well armed,” and came up with him as he was leaving an apothecary’s shop, “and his bravi had opened their ranks and received him in their midst. I drew a little dagger with a sharpened edge, and breaking the line of his defenders, laid my hands upon his breast so quickly and coolly that none of them were able to prevent me. Then I aimed to strike him in the face ; but fright made him turn his head round, and I stabbed him just beneath the ear. I only gave two blows, for he fell stone dead at the second. I had not meant to kill him ; but, as the saying goes, knocks are not dealt by measure. With my left hand I plucked back the dagger and with my right hand drew my sword to de-fend my life. However, all those bravi ran up to the corpse and took no action against me, so I went back alone through Strada Giulia, considering how best to put myself in safety.”
Cellini now accepted an invitation from Cardinal Cornaro to remain for a time under his protection, in view of possible unpleasant consequences from Pompeo’s murder, “and a few days afterward the Cardinal Farnese was elected Pope.
” After he had put affairs of greater con-sequence in order, the new Pope sent for me, saying that he did not wish any one else to strike his coins. To these words of his Holiness, a gentleman very privately acquainted with him, named Messer Latino Juvinale, made answer that I was in hiding for a murder committed on the person of one Pompeo of Milan, and set forth what could be argued for my justification in the most favorable terms. The Pope replied :
I knew nothing of Pompeo’s death, but plenty of Benvenuto’s provocation ; so let a safe-conduct be at once made out for him, in order that he may be placed in perfect security.’ A great friend of Pompeo’s, who was also intimate with the Pope, happened to be there ; he was a Milanese, called Messer Ambrogio. This man said : ‘In the first days of your papacy it were not well to grant pardons of this kind.’ The Pope turned to him and answered: ‘You know less about such matters than I do. Know, then, that men like Benvenuto, unique in their profession, stand above the law ; and how far more he, then, who received the provocation I have heard of?’ When my safe-conduct had been drawn out, I began at once to serve him, and was treated with the utmost favor.”
Having seen Benvenuto as a bravo, let us look at him as an artist, and one specially favored by that liberal patron of the arts, Francis I. Cellini writes that at one time Francis said, “Having now so fine a basin and jug of my workmanship, he wanted an equally handsome salt-cellar to match them ; and begged me to make a design, and to lose no time about it. I replied : ‘ Your Majesty shall see a model of the sort even sooner than you have commanded ; for while I was making the basin, I thought there ought to be a salt-cellar to match it, therefore I have already designed one, and if it is your pleasure, I will at once exhibit my conception.’ The king turned with a lively movement of surprise and pleasure to the lords in his company, they were the King of Navarre, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and the Cardinal of Ferrara, exclaiming, as he did so : ‘Upon my word, this is a man to be loved and cherished by every one who knows him.’ Then he told me he would very gladly see my model.
” I set off, and returned in a few minutes ; for I had only to cross the river, that is, the Seine. I carried with me the wax model I had made in Rome, at the Cardinal of Ferrara’s request. When I appeared again be-fore the king, and uncovered my piece, he cried out in astonishment : ‘ This is a hundred times more divine a thing than I had ever dreamed of. What a miracle of a man ! He ought never to stop working.’ Then he turned to me with a beaming countenance, and told me that he greatly liked the piece, and wished me to execute it in gold. The Cardinal of Ferrara looked me in the face, and let me understand that he recognized the model as the same I had made for him in Rome. I replied that I had already told him I should carry it out for one who was worthy of it. The cardinal, remembering my words, and nettled by the revenge he thought that I was taking on him, re-marked to the king : ‘ Sire, this is an enormous undertaking ; I am only afraid that we shall never see it finished. These able artists, who have great conceptions in their brain, are ready enough to put the same in execution without duly considering when they are to be accomplished. I therefore, if I gave commission for things of such magnitude, should like to know when I was likely to get them.’ The king replied that if a man was so scrupulous about the termination of a work, he never would begin anything at all. These words he uttered with a certain look, which implied that such enterprises were not for folk of little spirit. I then began to say my say: ‘Princes who put heart and courage in their servants, as your Majesty does, by deed and word, render undertakings of the greatest magnitude quite easy. Now that God has sent me so magnificent a patron, I hope to perform for him a multitude of great and splendid master-pieces.’ ‘ I believe it,’ said the king, and rose from the table. Then he called me into his chamber, and asked how much gold was wanted for the salt-cellar. ‘ A thousand crowns,’ I answered. He called his treasurer at once, who was the Viscount of Orbec, and ordered him that very day to disburse to me a thousand crowns of good weight and old gold.”
At a later date the artist says, speaking of the famous salt-cellar now at Vienna :
“The king had now returned to Paris; and when I paid him my respects, I took the piece with me. As I have already related, it was oval in form, standing about two-thirds of a cubit, wrought of solid gold, and worked entirely with the chisel. While speaking of the model, I said before how I had represented Sea and Earth, seated, with their legs interlaced, as we observe in the case of firths and promontories ; their attitude was there-fore metaphorically appropriate. The Sea carried a trident in his right hand, and in his left I put a ship of delicate workmanship to hold the salt. Below him were his four sea-horses, fashioned like our horses from the head to the front hoofs ; all the rest of their body, from the middle backwards, resembled a fish, and the tails of these creatures were agreeably interwoven. Above this group the Sea sat throned in an attitude of pride and dignity ; around him were many kinds of fishes and other creatures of the ocean. The water was represented with its waves, and enamelled in the appropriate color. I had portrayed Earth under the form of a very handsome woman, holding her horn of plenty, entirely nude like the male figure ; in her left hand I placed a little temple of Ionic architecture, most delicately wrought, which was meant to contain the pepper. Beneath her were the handsomest living creatures which the earth produces ; and the rocks were partly enamelled, partly left in gold. The whole piece reposed upon a base of ebony, properly proportioned, but with a projecting cornice, upon which I introduced four golden figures in rather more than half relief. They represented Night, Day, Twilight, and Dawn. I put, moreover, into the same frieze four other figures, similar in size, and intended for the four chief winds; these were executed, and in part enamelled, with the most exquisite refinement.
“When I exhibited this piece to his Majesty, he uttered a loud outcry of astonishment, and could not satiate his eyes with gazing at it. Then he bade me take it back to my house, saying he would tell me at the proper time what I should have to do with it. So I carried it home, and sent at once to invite several of my best friends ; we dined gaily together, placing the salt-cellar in the middle of the table, and thus we were the first to use it.”
The painter of ” Benvenuto Cellini in his Studio,” Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury, instructed in art by Girodet and Gros, and also by Horace Vernet, spent most of his life and produced most of his work in Paris, where he died in 1890, over ninety years old. More than one of his works may be seen in the Luxembourg and at Versailles. His subjects, mostly historic in their character, inolude “Charles V. at Yuste,” “Galileo,” “The Conference at Poissy, 1561,” “Clovis Entering Tours,” “The Death of Titian,” “Columbus,” and “The Last Moments of Montaigne.” The Paris Tribunal of Commerce contains several frescoes by Robert-Fleury.