11-03-1500

"Perseus Slays Medusa" - Benvenuto Cellini

BENVENUTO CELLINI, Italian artist, born (d. 1571); an Italian goldsmith, painter, sculptor, soldier and musician of the Renaissance, who also wrote a famous autobiography. His art, often celebratory of the young male form, is a testimonial to his appreciation of that beauty.

Cellini was charged four times with sodomy, only one of which is covered in his autobiography. At the age of twenty-three with a boy named Domenico di ser Giuliano da Ripa, an accusation was settled with a small fine (perhaps thanks to his youth at the time).  

While in Paris, a former model and lover brought charges against him of using her “after the Italian fashion.” This is the only charge recounted in his autobiography, possibly because his confrontation with his accuser at court led to a dismissal of charges.

In Florence in 1548, Cellini was accused by a woman named Margherita, for having certain familiarities with her son, Vincenzo. Perhaps this was a private quarrel, one from which he simply fled, and undeserving of attention.

Finally, in 1556, his apprentice Fernando, after being fired for an altercation, accused his mentor of Cinque anni ha tenuto per suo ragazzo Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano, giovanetto con el quale ha usato carnalmente moltissime volte col nefando vitio della soddomia, tenendolo in letto come sua moglie (For five years he kept as his boy Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano, a youth whom he used carnally in the abject vice of sodomy numerous instances, keeping him in his bed as a wife.) This time the penalty was a hefty fifty golden scudi fine, and four years of prison, remitted to four years of house arrest thanks to the intercession of the Medicis.

His writings are consistently more highly descriptive of the men in his life than of the women, many of whom he does not even name. His references to his boy models (and possibly lovers) are more tender and affectionate than his references to women, including his wife. In his sculpture, the male is always more convincingly modeled than the female – his Venus of Fontainebleau is unconvincing as a representation of the realistic female body.

Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini executed sculptures of grander scale. The most distinguished of these is the bronze group of “Perseus holding the head of Medusa”, a work (first suggested by Duke Cosimo I de Medici now in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence, his attempt to surpass Michelangelos David and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes. The casting was hailed as a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. The original relief from the foot of the pedestal — Perseus and Andromeda — is in the Bargello, and replaced by a cast.