Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/197

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187
BIOGRAPHY

which are Vespasiano da Bisticci's "Lives of Illustrious Men," and Giorgio Vasari's more renowned "Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects." Autobiography, however, is an even more pronounced manifestation of individualism, and as the composer of the first great and definite example of this literary form in modern times, Benvenuto stands forth as a brilliant exponent of his age. It is possible, doubtless, for an author to exhibit in an autobiography little of his own individuality, confining himself largely, like Trollope, to a narrative of events and a discussion of his books; but such was not the spirit of the sixteenth century, and Benvenuto even exceeds his time. He strips to the very soul. Unblushingly he lays bare alike his virtues and his vices, his public and his most private actions, his loves and hatreds. He seems unconscious of modesty's existence, and takes a palpable delight, which, by the magic of his style, he causes the reader to share, in analyzing his own passions and in recounting his own deeds and misdeeds; typical and widely varying examples are the affair with the Sicilian girl, Angelica,[1] the terrible revenge for his brother's assassination,[2] the celestial visions experienced in his long and gruesome incarceration.[3]


THE CORRECTNESS OF HIS ESTIMATE OF HIMSELF

Hand in hand with this attitude struts an exalted opinion of his own charms, prowess, and artistic superiority. In his conceit (for it is only a heroic form of this defect), he embodies not only individualism but also the concurrent phenomenon of humanism, which resurrected from ancient Rome such self-appreciation as appears so disagreeably in Cicero. With his high estimate of his own art modern criticism does not unqualifiedly agree. Of his labor as goldsmith so little that is certainly authentic remains that judgment is difficult; the chief extant example, the saltcellar of Francis I. now in the Imperial Treasury at Vienna, is unpleasant in composition and too ornate. In his few plastic works on a large scale, one of which, the bronze bust of Bindo Altoviti, America is fortunate enough to possess in the wonderful collection of Mrs. John L.

  1. H. C., xxxi, 127-138.
  2. H. C., xxxi, 98-106.
  3. H. C., xxxi, 235, 241.