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The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
by Benvenuto Cellini

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.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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A salt cellar created by Cellini for Francis I


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