The Life of Benvenuto Cellini/Notes

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CELLINI'S autobiography breaks off abruptly just at the point when it was acquiring considerable importance to the historian. Students of Florentine annals will hardly need to be reminded that in the autumn of 1562 the Cardinal de' Medici died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously upon a hunting expedition in the Pisan marshes, while Don Garzia de' Medici followed him to the grave after the interval of a few days at Pisa. Popular rumour asserted that the Cardinal had been mortally wounded in a quarrel by his brother Garzia, and that their father, the Grand Duke, had stabbed the latter in a fit of murderous rage. The death of the Grand Duchess Leonora, which took place shortly afterwards, was ascribed, not to her natural sorrow and to her own physical infirmities, but to the horror inspired in her by these domestic crimes.

There is little doubt that all three deaths were natural; and Cellini's interrupted account of the occurrences very materially confirms this view. It must, however, be regretted that we have lost the narrative of his visit to Pisa. The intimate relations which up to this time he maintained with the Grand Ducal family, gave him abundant opportunities for discerning the truth in matters which concerned them privately; nor can it be doubted that the picture he would probably have drawn of their domestic affliction must have been dramatically impressive.

Cellini died upon the 13th of February 1570, according to the old Florentine style, or in 1571, according to our modern reckoning. Therefore somewhat more than seven years of life remained for him after the termination of his Memoirs. The events of those years may be to a certain extent recovered from his private memoranda or Ricordi, his petitions to the Medicean princes and to the Soprasindachi of Florence, and a few official documents which mention him.

Some important incidents of his life at Florence before the year 1562, omitted for unknown reasons in his autobiography, have also to be recorded. We find that at the close of 1554 he was admitted to the Florentine nobility.[1] In the year 1556 he was twice imprisoned; on what charges cannot be precisely ascertained, though passages in his poems and petitions make it probable that on one at least of these occasions, he was accused of criminal immorality.[2] On the 2nd of June 1558 he took the first tonsure, without however engaging himself irrevocably to the ecclesiastical state.[3] From those preliminary vows he was released in 1560, and about four years later he married a woman who is named Piera di Salvadore Parigi in one of his Ricordi.[4] She is supposed to have been the same who behaved so genially at the time when the Perseus was being cast, and who nursed him through the illness following his visit to Sbietta in 1559. This identification is, however, to say the least, very dubious. The genealogical table printed at the close of these notes will inform the reader concerning the births and deaths of Cellini's children.

During the year 1559 an act of open-handed charity involved Cellini in a series of troublesome entanglements, which deserve to be briefly narrated. A certain woman called Dorotea, the wife of Domenico Parigi, surnamed Sputasenni, had long served him for a model. Her husband was a worthless fellow, who, being imprisoned in the Stinche for some quarrel, left his family in extreme indigence.[5] Cellini received Dorotea and her son Antonio and her daughter Margherita into his own house upon the 8th of July. There he supported them, at the same time paying for Sputasenni's board in prison, until the 25th of December, when the man was released. His kindness to the family did not stop here. Eleven months later, that is to say, in November 1560, he adopted the boy Antonio Sputasenni, giving him the name of Nutino (a diminutive of Benvenutino), and settling upon him the sum of one thousand crowns, which were to be paid when he reached the age of eighteen, provided he adopted the profession of a sculptor.[6] This boy turned out stupid, ill-conditioned, and intractable. Cellini found that it was useless to educate him for any art or trade. Nothing remained but to make him a friar; this being the natural refuge for incorrigible idlers and incapable ne'er-do-weels. Accordingly he was established among the novices of fratini in the Franciscan convent of the Nunziata. There he received the name of Lattanzio; but it does not appear that he pledged himself to enter into religion.[7] Cellini continued to exercise parental authority and supervision over the youth; and one of his chief anxieties was to keep him from the contaminating society of his father. This good-for-nothing fellow had been residing for some years in Pisa; but shortly before 1569 he returned with his wife to Florence, complained loudly that his son was being educated for a friar, and used all his influence to defeat the plans Cellini had formed for Lattanzio's future. Cellini forbade Lattanzio to visit his father. The novice disobeyed this order; and early in the spring of 1569 Cellini formally disinherited his adopted son, and washed his hands of the affair.[8] He was not, however, easily quit of these troublesome protégés. In 1570 Domenico Sputasenni instituted a suit against Cellini, in order to compel him to maintain the young man, whom we must now again call Antonio, and to secure a portion of the adoptive father's estate in settlement. The action went against the defendant, who was sentenced on the 2nd of June 1570 to provide for Antonio's support[9] Against this verdict Cellini appealed to the Grand Duke. It appears from the rescript to his petition that his estate was eventually freed from all claims on the part of Antonio Sputasenni; but Cellini was obliged to pay a yearly allowance during his own lifetime to the young man.[10]

During the whole of this transaction nothing emerges to Cellini's discredit; nor is there any hint that Antonio Sputasenni was regarded as his illegitimate child. On the contrary, the lad is described as "figliuolo suo adottivo e legittimo e naturale di Domenico d'Antonio Sputasenni di Firenze" in the adverse sentence of June 2, 1570. We have, therefore, the right to assume that all Cellini's dealings with the Sputasenni family were prompted by simple kind-heartedness. This, like his natural affection for his sister and nieces, which determined him to quit the service of King Francis, is an amiable trait in his mixed character.[11]

In the month of March 1561 (new style) Cellini received from the Grand Duke a donation of his house in the Via del Rosaio.[12] The terms in which Cosimo de' Medici mentions his merit as "an artist in bronze-casting and a sculptor resplendent with incomparable glory," prove that he was at this time high in favour with his patron. The gift is confirmed, with reversion to his heirs, by a formal deed of February 5,1563 (new style).[13]

The documents relating to Cellini during the last decade of his life prove that he was constantly in litigation with the Grand Duke regarding payments due to him for the Perseus and other works of art. It appears from them that, whether through his own neglect of art or through the indifference of his princely patrons, he ceased to be employed on undertakings of public importance. At the same time we gather from the same series of papers that he engaged in business speculations with Florentine goldsmiths, and that he invested some capital in purchases of land. The state of his health, which was never robust after the illness of 1559-60, combined with domestic cares, seems to have contributed together with old age to a suspension of his active faculties.

When the Florentines prepared their splendid obsequies for Michel Angelo Buonarroti in the Church of Sta. Croce, upon the 16th of March 1564, Cellini was chosen together with Ammanati to represent the art of Sculpture, while Bronzino and Vasari walked as representatives of Painting in the funeral procession.[14] Vasari in his Life of Michel Angelo relates that Cellini was prevented by ill-health from attending; and this must have been a sore disappointment to one who professed so sincere a devotion to the last great master of Italian art. Indeed, during the closing years of his existence, Cellini suffered from many pressing maladies, the worst and most persistent of which seems to have been the gout. After making several wills during the four previous years, he dictated his last testament on the 18th of December 1570. Codicils were added successively upon the 12th of January, 3rd of February, and 6th of February 1571; and on the 13th of that month he breathed his last. Upon the 15th he was buried with public honours in the Church of the Annunziata.In the course of the ceremony an oration was delivered "in praise and honour of his life and works, and of the excellent disposition of his soul and body ."[15] He left a widow and two legitimate children to deplore his loss.

  1. Bianchi, p. 592.
  2. Bianchi, p. 593.
  3. Bianchi, p. 596.
  4. Bianchi, p. 601.
  5. The story may be read in Cellini's petition to the Grand Duke, Bianchi, Doc. i. of Serie Prima, p. 542.
  6. See Tassi, 'vol. iii. p. 89.
  7. He is after-wards described as "lo sfratato Fra Lattanzio" by the judges who decided a case in his favour, June 2, 1570. Bianchi, p. 541.
  8. The whole story may best be read in Cellini's own Ricordi on the subject. Bianchi, Doc. xliii. of Serie Prima, p. 537.
  9. Bianchi, p. 541.
  10. See Cellini's petition, Bianchi, p. 542; Tassi, vol. iii. p.188; for the decree of July 11, 1570, compelling him to maintain Antonio during his own lifetime.
  11. It ought to be mentioned that the woman Cellini married before 1565, Piera di Salvadore Parigi, bore the same family name as these Sputasenni.
  12. See Carpani, vol. ii. p. 462; Tassi, vol. iii. p.108. This document is omitted by Molini and Bianchi. But I see no reason to doubt its genuineness.
  13. Bianchi, p. 501.
  14. Carpani, vol. ii. p. 498.
  15. Bianchi, p. 578.