Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
I CONTINUED to work for the Pope, executing now one trifle and now another, when he commissioned me to design a chalice of exceeding richness. So I made both drawing and model for the piece. The latter was constructed of wood and wax. Instead of the usual top, I fashioned three figures of a fair size in the round; they represented Faith, Hope, and Charity. Corresponding to these, at the base of the cup, were three circular histories in bas-relief. One was the Nativity of Christ, the second the Resurrection, and the third S. Peter crucified head downwards; for thus I had received commission. While I had this work in hand, the Pope was often pleased to look at it; wherefore, observing that his Holiness had never thought again of giving me anything, and knowing that a post in the Piombo was vacant, I asked for this one evening. The good Pope, quite oblivious of his extravagances at the termination of the last piece, said to me: That post in the Piombo is worth more than 800 crowns a year, so that if I gave it you, you would spend your time in scratching your paunch,1 and your magnificent handicraft would be lost, and I should bear the blame. I replied at once as thus: Cats of a good breed mouse better when they are fat than starving; and likewise honest men who possess some talent, exercise it to far nobler purport when they have the wherewithal to live abundantly; wherefore princes who provide such folk with competences, let your Holiness take notice, are watering the roots of genius; for genius and talent, at their birth, come into this world lean and scabby; and your Holiness should also know that I never asked for the place with the hope of getting it. Only too happy I to have that miserable post of mace-bearer. On the other I built but castles in the air. Your Holiness will do well, since you do not care to give it me, to bestow it on a man of talent who deserves it, and not upon some fat ignoramus who will spend his time scratching his paunch, if I may quote your holiness own words. Follow the example of Pope Giulios illustrious memory, who conferred an office of the same kind upon Bramante, that most admirable architect.
Immediately on finishing this speech, I made my bow, and went off in a fury. Then Bastiano Veneziano the painter approached, and said: Most blessed Father, may your Holiness be willing to grant it to one who works assiduously in the exercise of some talent; and as your Holiness knows that I am diligent in my art, I beg that I may be thought worthy of it. The Pope replied: That devil Benvenuto will not brook rebuke. I was inclined to give it him, but it is not right to be so haughty with a Pope. Therefore I do not well know what I am to do. The Bishop of Vasona then came up, and put in a word for Bastiano, saying: Most blessed Father, Benvenuto is but young; and a sword becomes him better than a friars frock. Let your Holiness give the place to this ingenious person Bastiano. Some time or other you will be able to bestow on Benvenuto a good thing, perhaps more suitable to him than this would be. Then the Pope turning to Messer Bartolommeo Valori, told him: When next you meet Benvenuto, let him know from me that it was he who got that office in the Piombo for Bastiano the painter, and add that he may reckon on obtaining the next considerable place that falls; meanwhile let him look to his behaviour, and finish my commissions.2
The following evening, two hours after sundown, I met Messer Bartolommeo Valori3 at the corner of the Mint; he was preceded by two torches, and was going in haste to the Pope, who had sent for him. On my taking off my hat, he stopped and called me, and reported in the most friendly manner all the messages the Pope had sent me. I replied that I should complete my work with greater diligence and application than any I had yet attempted, but without the least hope of having any reward whatever from the Pope. Messer Bartolommeo reproved me, saying that this was not the way in which one ought to reply to the advances of a Pope. I answered that I should be mad to reply otherwisemad if I based my hopes on such promises, being certain to get nothing. So I departed, and went off to my business.
Messer Bartolommeo must have reported my audacious speeches to the Pope, and more perhaps than I had really said; for his Holiness waited above two months before he sent to me, and during that while nothing would have induced me to go uncalled for to the palace. Yet he was dying with impatience to see the chalice, and commissioned Messer Ruberto Pucci to give heed to what I was about.4 That right worthy fellow came daily to visit me, and always gave me some kindly word, which I returned. The time was drawing nigh now for the Pope to travel toward Bologna;5 so at last, perceiving that I did not mean to come to him, he made Messer Ruberto bid me bring my work, that he might see how I was getting on. Accordingly, I took it; and having shown, as the piece itself proved, that the most important part was finished, I begged him to advance me five hundred crowns, partly on account, and partly because I wanted gold to complete the chalice. The Pope said: Go on, go on at work till it is finished. I answered, as I took my leave, that I would finish it if he paid me the money. And so I went away.
Note 1. Grattare il corpo, which I have translated scratch your paunch, is equivalent to twirl your thumbs. [back]
Note 2. The office of the Piombo in Rome was a bureau in which leaden seals were appended to Bulls and instruments of state. It remained for a long time in the hands of the Cistercians; but it used also to be conferred on laymen, among whom were Bremante and Sebastiano del Piombo. When the latter obtained it, he neglected his art and gave himself up to scratching his paunch, as Cellini predicted. [back]
Note 3. Bartolommeo or Baccio Valori, a devoted adherent of the Medici, played an important part in Florentine history. He was Clements commissary to the Prince of Orange during the siege. Afterwards, feeling himself ill repaid for his services, he joined Filippo Strozzi in his opposition to the Medicean rule, and was beheaded in 1537, together with his son and a nephew. [back]
Note 4. Roberto Pucci was another of the devoted Medicean partisans who remained true to his colours. He sat among the forty-eight senators of Alessandro, and was made a Cardinal by Paul III. in 1534. [back]
Note 5. On November 18, 1532, Clement went to meet Charles V. at Bologna, where, in 1529, he had already given him the Imperial crown. [back]