Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
WHEN I returned to my shop, I set my hand with diligence to finishing the diamond ring, concerning which the four first jewellers of Rome were sent to consult with me. This was because the Pope had been informed that the diamond had been set by the first jeweller of the world in Venice; he was called Maestro Miliano Targhetta; and the diamond being somewhat thin, the job of setting it was too difficult to be attempted without great deliberation. I was well pleased to receive these four jewellers, among whom was a man of Milan called Gaio. He was the most presumptuous donkey in the world, the one who knew least and who thought he knew most; the others were very modest and able craftsmen. In the presence of us all this Gaio began to talk, and said: Milianos foil should be preserved, and to do that, Benvenuto, you shall doff your cap;1 for just as giving diamonds a tint is the most delicate and difficult thing in the jewellers art, so is Miliano the greatest jeweller that ever lived, and this is the most difficult diamond to tint. I replied that it was all the greater glory for me to compete with so able a master in such an excellent profession. Afterwards I turned to the other jewellers and said: Look here! I am keeping Milianos foil, and I will see whether I can improve on it with some of my own manufacture; if not, we will tint it with the same you see here. That ass Gaio exclaimed that if I made a foil like that he would gladly doff his cap to it. To which I replied: Supposing then I make it better, it will deserve two bows. Certainly so, said he; and I began to compose my foils.
I took the very greatest pains in mixing the tints, the method of doing which I will explain in the proper place.2 It is certain that the diamond in question offered more difficulties than any others which before or afterwards have come into my hands, and Milianos foil was made with true artistic skill. However, that did not dismay me; but having sharpened my wits up, I succeeded not only in making something quite as good, but in exceeding it by far. Then, when I saw that I had surpassed him, I went about to surpass myself, and produced a foil by new processes which was a long way better than what I had previously made. Thereupon I sent for the jewellers; and first I tinted the diamond with Milianos foil: then I cleaned it well and tinted it afresh with my own. When I showed it to the jewellers, one of the best among them, who was called Raffael del Moro, took the diamond in his hand and said to Gaio: Benvenuto has outdone the foil of Miliano. Gaio, unwilling to believe it, took the diamond and said: Benvenuto, this diamond is worth two thousand ducats more than with the foil of Miliano. I rejoined: Now that I have surpassed Miliano, let us see if I can surpass myself. Then I begged them to wait for me a while, went up into a little cabinet, and having tinted the diamond anew unseen by them, returned and showed it to the jewellers. Gaio broke out at once: This is the most marvellous thing that I have ever seen in the course of my whole lifetime. The stone is worth upwards of eighteen thousand crowns, whereas we valued it at barely twelve thousand. The others jewellers turned to him and said: Benvenuto is the glory of our art, and it is only due that we should doff our caps to him and to his foils. Then Gaio said: I shall go and tell the Pope, and I mean to procure for him one thousand golden crowns for the setting of this diamond. Accordingly he hurried to the Pope and told him the whole story; whereupon his Holiness sent three times on that day to see if the ring was finished.
At twenty-three oclock I took the ring to the palace; and since the doors were always open to me, I lifted the curtain gently, and saw the Pope in private audience with the Marchese del Guasto.3 The Marquis must have been pressing something on the Pope which he was unwilling to perform; for I heard him say: I tell you, no; it is my business to remain neutral, and nothing else. I was retiring as quickly as I could, when the Pope himself called me back; so I entered the room, and presented the diamond ring, upon which he drew me aside, and the Marquis retired to a distance. While looking at the diamond, the Pope whispered to me: Benvenuto, begin some conversation with me on a subject which shall seem important, and do not stop talking so long as the Marquis remains in this room. Then he took to walking up and down, and the occasion making for my advantage, I was very glad to discourse with him upon the methods I had used to tint the stone. The Marquis remained standing apart, leaning against a piece of tapestry; and now he balanced himself about on one foot, now on the other. The subject I had chosen to discourse upon was of such importance, if fully treated, that I could have talked about it at least three hours. The Pope was entertained to such a degree that he forgot the annoyance of the Marquis standing there. I seasoned what I had to say with that part of natural philosophy which belongs to our profession; and so having spoken for near upon an hour, the Marquis grew tired of waiting, and went off fuming. Then the Pope bestowed on me the most familiar caresses which can be imagined, and exclaimed: Have patience, my dear Benvenuto, for I will give you a better reward for your virtues than the thousand crowns which Gaio tells me your work is worth.
On this I took my leave; and the Pope praised me in the presence of his household, among whom was the fellow Latino Juvenale, whom I have previously mentioned. This man, having become my enemy, assiduously strove to do me hurt; and noticing that the Pope talked of me with so much affection and warmth, he put in his word: There is no doubt at all that Benvenuto is a person of very remarkable genius; but while every one is naturally bound to feel more goodwill for his own countrymen than for others, still one ought to consider maturely what language it is right and proper to use when speaking of a Pope. He has had the audacity to say that Pope Clement indeed was the handsomest sovereign that ever reigned, and no less gifted; only that luck was always against him: and he says that your Holiness is quite the opposite; that the tiara seems to weep for rage upon your head; that you look like a truss of straw with clothes on, and that there is nothing in you except good luck. These words, reported by a man who knew most excellently how to say them, had such force that they gained credit with the Pope. Far from having uttered them, such things had never come into my head. If the Pope could have done so without losing credit, he would certainly have taken fierce revenge upon me; but being a man of great tact and talent, he made a show of turning it off with a laugh. Nevertheless he harboured in his heart a deep vindictive feeling against me, of which I was not slow to be aware, since I had no longer the same easy access to his apartments as formerly, but found the greatest difficulty in procuring audience. As I had now for many years been familiar with the manners of the Roman court, I conceived that some one had done me a bad turn; and on making dexterous inquiries, I was told the whole, but not the name of my calumniator. I could not imagine who the man was; had I but found him out, my vengeance would not have been measured by troy weight.4
Note 1. In the Oreficeria Cellini gives an account of how these foils were made and applied. They were composed of paste, and coloured so as to enhance the effect of precious stones, particularly diamonds. [back]