Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
IT happened that Cardinal Salviati, who, as I have related, entertained an old hostility against me, had been appointed Legate to Parma. In that city a certain Milanese goldsmith, named Tobbia, was taken up for false coining, and condemned to the gallows and the stake. Representations in his favour, as being a man of great ability, were made to the Cardinal, who suspended the execution of the sentence, and wrote to the Pope, saying the best goldsmith in the world had come into his hands, sentenced to death for coining false money, but that he was a good simple fellow, who could plead in his excuse that he had taken counsel with his confessor, and had received, as he said, from him permission to do this. Thereto he added: If you send for this great artist to Rome, your Holiness will bring down the overweening arrogance of your favourite Benvenuto, and I am quite certain that Tobbias work will please you far more than his. The Pope accordingly sent for him at once; and when the man arrived, he made us both appear before him, and commissioned each of us to furnish a design for mounting an unicorns horn, the finest which had ever been seen, and which had been sold for 17,000 ducats of the Camera. The Pope meant to give it to King Francis; but first he wished it richly set in gold, and ordered us to make sketches for this purpose. When they were finished, we took them to the Pope. That of Tobbia was in the form of a candlestick, the horn being stuck in it like a candle, and at the base of the piece he had introduced four little unicorns heads of a very poor design. When I saw the thing, I could not refrain from laughing gently in my sleeve. The Pope noticed this, and cried: Here, show me your sketch! It was a single unicorns head, proportioned in size to the horn. I had designed the finest head imaginable; for I took it partly from the horse and partly from the stag, enriching it with fantastic mane and other ornaments. Accordingly, no sooner was it seen, than every one decided in my favour. There were, however, present at the competition certain Milanese gentlemen of the first consequence, who said: Most blessed Father, your Holiness is sending this magnificent present into France; please to reflect that the French are people of no culture, and will not understand the excellence of Benvenutos work; pyxes like this one of Tobbias will suit their taste well, and these too can be finished quicker.1 Benvenuto will devote himself to completing your chalice, and you will get two pieces done in the same time; moreover, this poor man, whom you have brought to Rome, will have the chance to be employed. The Pope, who was anxious to obtain his chalice, very willingly adopted the advice of the Milanese gentlefolk.
Next day, therefore, he commissioned Tobbia to mount the unicorns horn, and sent his Master of the Wardrobe to bid me finish the chalice.2 I replied that I desired nothing in the world more than to complete the beautiful work I had begun: and if the material had been anything but gold, I could very easily have done so myself; but it being gold, his Holiness must give me some of the metal if he wanted me to get through with my work. To this the vulgar courtier answered: Zounds! dont ask the Pope for gold, unless you mean to drive him into such a fury as will ruin you. I said: Oh, my good lord, will your lordship please to tell me how one can make bread without flour? Even so without gold this piece of mine cannot be finished. The Master of the Wardrobe, having an inkling that I had made a fool of him, told me he should report all I had spoken to his Holiness; and this he did. The Pope flew into a bestial passion, and swore he would wait to see if I was so mad as not to finish it. More than two months passed thus; and though I had declared I would not give a stroke to the chalice, I did not do so, but always went on working with the greatest interest. When he perceived I was not going to bring it, he began to display real displeasure, and protested he would punish me in one way or another.
A jeweller from Milan in the Papal service happened to be present when these words were spoken. He was called Pompeo, and was closely related to Messer Trajano, the most favoured servant of Pope Clement. The two men came, upon a common understanding, to him and said: If your Holiness were to deprive Benvenuto of the Mint, perhaps he would take it into his head to complete the chalice. To this the Pope answered No; two evil things would happen: first, I should be ill served in the Mint, which concerns me greatly; and secondly, I should certainly not get the chalice. The two Milanese, observing the Pope indisposed towards me, at last so far prevailed that he deprived me of the Mint, and gave it to a young Perugian, commonly known as Fagiuolo.3 Pompeo came to inform me that his Holiness had taken my place in the Mint away, and that if I did not finish the chalice, he would deprive me of other things besides. I retorted: Tell his Holiness that he has deprived himself and not me of the Mint, and that he will be doing the same with regard to those other things of which he speaks; and that if he wants to confer the post on me again, nothing will induce me to accept it. The graceless and unlucky fellow went off like an arrow to find the Pope and report this conversation; he added also something of his own invention. Eight days later, the Pope sent the same man to tell me that he did not mean me to finish the chalice, and wanted to have it back precisely at the point to which I had already brought it. I told Pompeo: This thing is not like the Mint, which it was in his power to take away; but five hundred crowns which I received belong to his Holiness, and I am ready to return them; the piece itself is mine, and with it I shall do what I think best. Pompeo ran off to report my speech, together with some biting words which in my righteous anger I had let fly at himself.
Note 1. The word I have translated pyxes is ciborii, vessels for holding the Eucharist. [back]
Note 2. The Master of the Wardrobe was at that time Giovanni Aleotti. I need hardly remind my readers that Guardaroba or wardrobe was the apartment in a palace where arms, plate, furniture, and clothes were stored. We shall find, when we come to Cellinis service under Duke Cosimo, that princes spent much of their time in this place. [back]
Note 3. Vasari mentions a Girolamo Fagiuoli, who flourished at this period but calls him a Bolognese. [back]