Cellini’s Masterpiece

See what you think when you come down the Strada dei Fiorentini of Florence and spot the Perseus in the corner of the Loggia.

Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini in the Loggia of Florence (public domain photo)

If you’ve read Benvenuto Cellini’s book, you must admit you didn´t expect THAT—you didn´t know it was going to be so good, though Cellini swore it was. Of course how could you take his word for anything—such a liar, such a divine liar—such a glorious fairy tale, his book.

And now you see it was true and better than true. You might as well be discovering on a trip to England Jack´s very beanstalk—fresh, giant, CLIMB-ABLE.

Model for the Perseus (Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike  3.0 unported license photo)

Perseus was the biggest statue Benvenuto ever tried in Florence and it almost did him in. And wouldn´t his enemies have liked THAT? They smirked and grinned when they heard his claims and said he was a little-figure man, not a sculptor. How was that little goldsmith going to model a figure twice as big as life and cast it too? Always the bigtime with Benvenuto. What he had was a big mouth.

But like all the Renaissance greats, Cellini trusted in himself. Let the experts cast his giant figure? Not on your life—he would do it himself. He´d get a handful of boys to help him and cast the darn thing in his house. He was sick of experts.

You pay a price for doing things your own way. And at the last minute everything went wrong and Benvenuto collapsed from the strain. He left the boys with his statue while the cauldron was a-bubble and ran off to bed, pale as death. While he was gone the boys lost control, the roof caught fire and the liquid bronze caked in the crucible. “All is lost, Master,” one of them came to tell him. But a ghost or a hallucination warned Benvenuto, told him to hurry back to the workshop—there was time to save the Perseus. Up he sprang and in a twinkle was there shouting orders—Make for the pile of old oakwood by the shed! Gather all the pewter in the house and throw it into the crucible of clotting bronze! Get moving, boys—we´re going to save her!

And the miracle happened. The oakwood fire melted the bronze again and all the pewter Benvenuto had added. Would it be enough to fill the mold? It was a one-shot job. With a cry he ordered the boys to tip the crucible. And the red-hot bronze poured in—all of it, down to the last fiery drop. And when everything had cooled down and the bronze had hardened in the mold, Benvenuto began with great suspense to dig up his statue (for it was buried in the ground) and to knock away the burnt clay jacket that enveloped it.

And if you remember that far, you´ll remember the rest and get up on the stone railing to have a look at the toes of the Perseus.


This entry was posted in art, Benvenuto Cellini, bronze casting, sculpture. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cellini’s Masterpiece

  1. Ken Januski says:

    Like a heavyweight champion returning to the ring, Swallows shows once again why he is the best teller of art stories on the web! Bravo, Swallows.

    • 100swallows says:

      Ah, shucks, Ken, thanks. But it’s Benvenuto that ought to get the applause. HE’S the story-teller. I hope I can make somebody read his book.

  2. erikatakacs says:

    Shame on me, I quit reading his book before I got to the good part. Online reading of a book is not the best way I guess, but now I’ll have to finish it. Thanks, Swallows!

  3. erikatakacs says:

    Really good part I mean. Because it’s a very good read, and I certainly enjoyed all his boastings and strechings and giant ego.

    • 100swallows says:

      Hi Erika! I noticed you were silent about the Cellini book and I wondered what had gone wrong. Of course, on-line reading…. But I know not everyone can stand the guy or get excited about his adventures. Every time he talked about a wonderful wax figure he made I wanted to try one of my own. The same must happen to you.

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