Cellini's autobiography  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Benvenuto Cellini's (1500-1571) autobiography, written in Florence beginning in 1558, has much in common with the picaresque.

Characteristic of its splendidly gifted and barbarically untameable author are the autobiographical memoirs which he composed, beginning them in Florence in 1558 — a production of the utmost energy, directness and racy animation, setting forth one of the most singular careers in all the annals of fine art. His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, running now and again into extravagances which it is impossible to credit, and difficult to set down as strictly conscious falsehoods, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence. Cellini not only writes of the strange and varied adventures of which we have presented a hasty sketch, but of the devout complacency with which Cellini could contemplate a satisfactorily achieved homicide. He writes of his time in Paris:

"When certain decisions of the court were sent me by those lawyers, and I perceived that my cause had been unjustly lost, I had recourse for my defense to a great dagger I carried; for I have always taken pleasure in keeping fine weapons. The first man I attacked was a plaintiff who had sued me; and one evening I wounded him in the legs and arms so severely, taking care, however, not to kill him, that I deprived him of the use of both his legs. Then I sought out the other fellow who had brought the suit, and used him also such wise that he dropped it. --Chapter XXVIII, The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, as translated by John Addington Symonds, Dolphin Books edition, 1961.

There are parts of his tale that are clearly outright falsehoods, such as the legion of devils which he and a conjurer evoked in the Colosseum, after one of his not innumerous mistresses had been spirited away from him by her mother; of the marvelous halo of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and twilight after his Roman imprisonment, and his supernatural visions and angelic protection during that adversity; and of his being poisoned on two separate occasions. If he is unmeasured in abusing some people, he is also unlimited in praising others.

The autobiography has been translated into English by Thomas Roscoe, by John Addington Symonds, and by A. Macdonald. It has been considered and published as a classic, and commonly regarded as one of the most colourful autobiographies (certainly the most important autobiography from the Renaissance). Cellini also wrote treatises on the goldsmith's art, on sculpture, and on design (translated by C. R. Ashbee, 1899).

The life of Cellini also inspired the popular French author Alexandre Dumas, père. Dumas, an author of numerous historical novels wrote Ascanio, which was based on Cellini's life. The novel focuses on several years during Cellini's stay in France, working for Francis. The book is also centred around Ascanio, an apprentice of Cellini. The famous scheming, plot twists and intrigue that made Dumas famous feature in the novel, in this case involving, Cellini, the duchesse d'Etampes and other members of the court. Cellini is portrayed as a passionate and troubled man, plagued by the inconsistencies of life under the "patronage" of a false and somewhat cynical court.

In addition to the opera by Berlioz, Cellini was also the subject of a Broadway musical, The Firebrand of Florence, by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill, which featured Lotte Lenya (Mrs. Weill) as one of the sculptor's royal conquests. The show, unfortunately, was not a hit, and only ran for a month on Broadway, although some of its songs are periodically revived. It marked the last major collaboration between Weill and Gershwin, whose collaboration was best known for the classic Lady in the Dark (1941

Cellini's autobiography is also one of the book's Tom Sawyer mentions as inspiration while freeing Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cellini's autobiography" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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