Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
WHEN the Duke came to Florence, he sought me at my house without giving me previous notice. I showed him two little models of different design. Though he praised them both, he said that one of them pleased him better than the other; I was to finish the one he liked with care; and this would be to my advantage. Now his Excellency had already seen Bandinellos designs, and those of other sculptors; but, as I was informed by many of his courtiers who had heard him, he commended mine far above the rest. Among other matters worthy of record and of great weight upon this point, I will mention the following. The Cardinal of Santa Fiore was on a visit to Florence, and the Duke took him to Poggio a Caiano. Upon the road, noticing the marble as he passed, the Cardinal praised it highly, inquiring of his Excellency for what sculptor he intended it. The Duke replied at once: For my friend Benvenuto, who has made a splendid model with a view to it. This was reported to me by men whom I could trust.
Hearing what the Duke had said, I went to the Duchess, and took her some small bits of goldsmiths work, which greatly pleased her Excellency. Then she asked what I was doing, and I replied: My lady, I have taken in hand for my pleasure one of the most laborious pieces which have ever been produced. It is a Christ of the whitest marble set upon a cross of the blackest, exactly of the same size as a tall man. She immediately inquired what I meant to do with it. I answered: You must know my lady, that I would not sell it for two thousand golden ducats; it is of such difficult execution that I think no man ever attempted the like before; nor would I have undertaken it at the commission of any prince whatever, for fear I might prove inadequate to the task. I bought the marbles with my own money, and have kept a young man some two years as my assistant in the work. What with the stone, the iron frame to hold it up, and the wages, it has cost me above three hundred crowns. Consequently, I would not sell it for two thousand. But if your Excellency deigns to grant me a favour which is wholly blameless, I shall be delighted to make you a present of it. All I ask is that your Excellency will not use your influence either against or for the models which the Duke has ordered to be made of the Neptune for that great block of marble. She replied with mighty indignation: So then you value neither my help nor my opposition? On the contrary, I value them highly, princess; or why am I offering to give you what I value at two thousand ducats? But I have such confidence in my laborious and well-trained studies, that I hope to win the palm, even against the great Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, from whom and from no one else I have learned all that I know. Indeed, I should be much better pleased to enter into competition with him who knows so much than with those others who know but little of their art. Contending with my sublime master, I could gain laurels in plenty, whereas there are but few to be reaped in a contest with these men. After I had spoken, she rose in a half-angry mood, and I returned to work with all the strength I had upon my model.
When it was finished, the Duke came to see it, bringing with him two ambassadors, one from the Duke of Ferrara, the other from the Signory of Lucca. They were delighted, and the Duke said to those two gentlemen: Upon my word, Benvenuto deserves to have the marble. Then they both paid me the highest compliments, especially the envoy from Lucca, who was a person of accomplishments and learning.1 I had retired to some distance in order that they might exchange opinions freely; but when I heard that I was being complimented, I came up, turned to the Duke, and said: My lord, your most illustrious Excellency ought now to employ another admirable device: decree that every one who likes shall make a model in clay exactly of the same size as the marble has to be. In this way you will be able to judge far better who deserves the commission; and I may observe that if your Excellency does not give it to the sculptor who deserves it, this will not wrong the man so much, but will reflect great discredit upon yourself, since the loss and shame will fall on you. On the other hand, if you award it to the one who has deserved it, you will acquire great glory in the first place, and will employ your treasure well, while artists will believe that you appreciate and understand their business. No sooner had I finished speaking than the Duke shrugged his shoulders, and began to move away. While they were taking leave the ambassador of Lucca said to the Duke: Prince, this Benvenuto of yours is a terrible man! The Duke responded: He is much more terrible than you imagine, and well were it for him if he were a little less terrible; then he would possess at the present moment many things which he has not got. These precise words were reported to me by the envoy, by way of chiding and advising me to change my conduct. I told him that I had the greatest wish to oblige my lord as his affectionate and faithful servant, but that I did not understand the arts of flattery. Several months after this date, Bandinello died; and it was thought that, in addition to his intemperate habits of life, the mortification of having probably to lose the marble contributed to his decline.