ABSTRACT

It is an extraordinary fact that an artist wrote the first modern autobiography. Benvenuto Cellini’s Vita is a pioneering attempt to fashion a literary identity that would influence contemporary critics and ensure posthumous immortality. Traditional Cellini scholarship has used the Vita as evidence of his blustering and unbalanced personality, and accepted what he reports either as fundamentally true, or as a complete fabrication approaching an adventure novel, or as evidence of some disorder such as pathological lying, in which the liar believes his own fabrications. 1 In accordance with more recent scholarship, I do not believe that the literary Cellini (1500–71) was so disingenuous; rather, the Vita is a calculated campaign of self-presentation. 2 My approach to Cellini scrittore focuses on the artist’s descriptions of his major projects as illustrations of his identity; this chapter examines some aspects of his account of the greatest of these works: the bronze Perseus cast for Cosimo I de’ Medici begun in 1545 (Fig. 11.1). The Perseus is Benvenuto’s most important and successful monumental endeavour, and his literary version of it is the artistic centrepiece of his Vita. The fundamental themes he stresses throughout the Vita reach a crescendo in this passage: that he is the greatest artist in the Florentine tradition, anointed not only by his predecessors but by God, and that he has achieved this status through his supernatural creative capacities that set him outside the boundaries constraining common mortals, including traditionally elevated groups such as aristocrats and scholars. Benvenuto Cellini, <italic>Perseus</italic>, Florence, Piazza della Signoria https://s3-euw1-ap-pe-df-pch-content-public-u.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/9781315199986/41cb1d66-7d22-4259-b0e5-887079ff63d5/content/fig11_1.jpg"/>