Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
I HAD got all the above-mentioned things in order, and was making vigorous preparations for my great undertakingindeed a portion of the lime had been already usedwhen I received sudden notice to appear before the majordomo. I found him, after his Excellencys dinner, in the hall of the clock.1 On entering, I paid him marked respect, and he received me with the greatest stiffness. Then he asked who had installed me in the house, and by whose authority I had begun to build there, saying he marvelled much that I had been so headstrong and foolhardy. I answered that I had been installed in the house by his Excellency, and that his lordship himself, in the name of his Excellency, had given the orders to Lattanzio Gorini. Lattanzio brought stone, sand, and lime, and provided what I wanted, saying he did so at your lordships orders. When I had thus spoken, the brute turned upon me with still greater tartness, vowing that neither I nor any of those whom I had mentioned spoke the truth. This stung me to the quick, and I exclaimed: O majordomo, so long as your lordship2 chooses to use language befitting the high office which you hold, I shall revere you, and speak to you as respectfully as I do to the Duke; if you take another line with me, I shall address you as but one Ser Pier Francesco Riccio. He flew into such a rage that I thought he meant to go mad upon the spot, anticipating the time ordained by Heaven for him to do so.3 Pouring forth a torrent of abuse, he roared out that he was surprised at himself for having let me speak at all to a man of his quality. Thereupon my blood was up, and I cried: Mark my words, then, Ser Pier Francesco Riccio! I will tell you what sort of men are my equals, and who are yoursmere teachers of the alphabet to children! His face contracted with a spasm, while he raised his voice and repeated the same words in a still more insulting tone. I, too, assumed an air of menace, and matching his own arrogance with something of the same sort, told him plainly that men of my kind were worthy to converse with popes and emperors, and great kings, and that perhaps there were not two such men alive upon this earth, while ten of his sort might be met at every doorway. On hearing these words he jumped upon a window-seat in the hall there, and defied me to repeat what I had said. I did so with still greater heat and spirit, adding I had no farther mind to serve the Duke, and that I should return to France, where I was always welcome. The brute remained there stupefied and pale as clay; I went off furious, resolved on leaving Florence; and would to God that I had done so!
The Duke cannot, I think, have been informed at once of this diabolical scene, for I waited several days without hearing from him. Giving up all thoughts of Florence, except what concerned the settlement of my sisters and nieces affairs, I made preparations to provide for them as well as I could with the small amount of money I had brought, and then to return to France and never set my foot in Italy again. This being my firm purpose, I had no intention to ask leave of the Duke or anybody, but to decamp as quickly as I could; when one morning the majordomo, of his own accord, sent very humbly to entreat my presence, and opened a long pedantic oration, in which I could discover neither method, nor elegance, nor meaning, nor head, nor tail. I only gathered from it that he professed himself a good Christian, wished to bear no man malice, and asked me in the Dukes name what salary I should be willing to accept. Hearing this, I stood a while on guard, and made no answer, being firmly resolved not to engage myself. When he saw that I refused to reply, he had at least the cleverness to put in: Benvenuto, dukes expect to be answered; and what I am saying to you, I am saying from his Excellencys lips. Then I rejoined that if the message came from his Excellency, I would gladly reply, and told him to report to the Duke that I could not accept a position inferior to that of any one employed by him as artist. The majordomo answered: Bandinello receives two hundred crowns a year; if then you are contented with that, your salary is settled. I agreed upon these terms, adding that what I might earn in addition by the merit of my performances, could be given after they were seen; that point I left entirely to the good judgment of his Excellency. Thus, then, against my will, I pieced the broken thread again, and set to work; the Duke continually treating me with the highest imaginable marks of favour.
Note 1. One of the rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio, so called because the famous cosmographical timepiece, made about 1484 for Lorenzo de Medici by Lorenzo della Volpaia, stood there. [back]
Note 2. It was the custom at that epoch to address princes by the title of Signore or Vostra Signoria; gentlemen (armigeri) had the title of Messer; simple Ser was given to plebeians with some civil or ecclesiastical dignity. [back]
Note 3. Vasari, in his Life of Montorsoli, says in effect that this Riccio died about 1559, after having been insane several years. [back]