Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
UPON my arrival in Rome,1 I found several of my former friends, by whom I was very well received and kindly entertained. No time was lost before I set myself to work at things which brought me profit, but were not notable enough to be described. There was a fine old man, a goldsmith, called Raffaello del Moro, who had considerable reputation in the trade, and was to boot a very worthy fellow. He begged me to consent to enter his workshop, saying he had some commissions of importance to execute, on which high profits might be looked for; so I accepted his proposal with goodwill.
More than ten days had elapsed, and I had not presented myself to Maestro Giacopino della Barca. Meeting me one day by accident, he gave me a hearty welcome, and asked me how long I had been in Rome. When I told him I had been there about a fortnight, he took it very ill, and said that I showed little esteem for a Pope who had urgently compelled him to write three times for me. I, who had taken his persistence in the matter still more ill, made no reply, but swallowed down my irritation. The man, who suffered from a flux of words, began one of his long yarns, and went on talking, till at the last, when I saw him tired out, I merely said that he might bring me to the Pope when he saw fit. He answered that any time would do for him, and I, that I was always ready. So we took our way toward the palace. It was a Maundy Thursday; and when we reached the apartments of the Pope, he being known there and I expected, we were at once admitted.
The Pope was in bed, suffering from a slight indisposition, and he had with him Messer Jacopo Salviati and the Archbishop of Capua.2 When the Pope set eyes on me, he was exceedingly glad. I kissed his feet, and then, as humbly as I could, drew near to him, and let him understand that I had things of consequence to utter. On this he waved his hand, and the two prelates retired to a distance from us. I began at once to speak: Most blessed Father, from the time of the sack up to this hour, I have never been able to confess or to communicate, because they refuse me absolution. The case is this. When I melted down the gold and worked at the unsetting of those jewels, your Holiness ordered the Cavalierino to give me a modest reward for my labours, of which I received nothing, but on the contrary he rather paid me with abuse. When then I ascended to the chamber where I had melted down the gold, and washed the ashes, I found about a pound and a half of gold in tiny grains like millet-seeds; and inasmuch as I had not money enough to take me home respectably, I thought I would avail myself of this, and give it back again when opportunity should offer. Now I am here at the feet of your Holiness, who is the only true confessor. I entreat you to do me the favour of granting me indulgence, so that I may be able to confess and communicate, and by the grace of your Holiness regain the grace of my Lord God. Upon this the Pope, with a scarcely perceptible sigh, remembering perhaps his former trials, spoke as follows: Benvenuto, I thoroughly believe what you tell me; it is in my power to absolve you of any unbecoming deed you may have done, and, what is more, I have the will. So, then, speak out with frankness and perfect confidence; for if you had taken the value of a whole tiara, I am quite ready to pardon you. Thereupon I answered: I took nothing, most blessed Father, but what I have confessed; and this did not amount to the value of 140 ducats, for that was the sum I received from the Mint in Perugia, and with it I went home to comfort my poor old father. The Pope said: Your father has been as virtuous, good, and worthy a man as was ever born, and you have not degenerated from him. I am very sorry that the money was so little; but such as you say it was, I make you a present of it, and give you my full pardon. Assure your confessor of this, if there is nothing else upon your conscience which concerns me. Afterwards, when you have confessed and communicated, you shall present yourself to me again, and it will be to your advantage.
When I parted from the Pope, Messer Giacopo and the Archbishop approached, and the Pope spoke to them in the highest terms imaginable about me; he said that he had confessed and absolved me; then he commissioned the Archbishop of Capua to send for me and ask if I had any other need beyond this matter, giving him full leave to absolve me amply, and bidding him, moreover, treat me with the utmost kindness.
While I was walking away with Maestro Giacopino, he asked me very inquisitively what was the close and lengthy conversation I had had with his Holiness. After he had repeated the question more than twice, I said that I did not mean to tell him, because they were matters with which he had nothing to do, and therefore he need not go on asking me. Then I went to do what had been agreed on with the Pope; and after the two festivals were over, I again presented myself before his Holiness. He received me even better than before, and said: If you had come a little earlier to Rome, I should have commissioned you to restore my two tiaras, which were pulled to pieces in the castle. These, however, with the exception of the gems, are objects of little artistic interest; so I will employ you on a piece of the very greatest consequence, where you will be able to exhibit all your talents. It is a button for my priests cope, which has to be made round like a trencher, and as big as a little trencher, one-third of a cubit wide. Upon this I want you to represent a God the Father in half-relief, and in the middle to set that magnificent big diamond, which you remember, together with several other gems of the greatest value. Caradosso began to make me one, but did not finish it; I want yours to be finished quickly, so that I may enjoy the use of it a little while. Go, then, and make me a fine model. He had all the jewels shown me, and then I went off like a shot3 to set myself to work.
Note 1. Cellini has been severely taxed for leaving Florence at this juncture and taking service under Pope Clement, the oppressor of her liberties. His own narrative admits some sense of shame. Yet we should remember that he never took any decided part in politics, and belonged to a family of Medicean sympathies. His father served Lorenzo and Piero; his brother was a soldier of Giovanni delle Bande Nere and Duke Alessandro. Many most excellent Florentines were convinced that the Medicean government was beneficial; and an artist had certainly more to expect from it than from the Republic. [back]
Note 2. Nicolas Schomberg, a learned Dominican and disciple of Savonarola, made Archbishop of Capua in 1520. He was a faithful and able minister of Clement. Paul III gave him the hat in 1535, and he died in 1537. [back]