Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Notes on Benvenuto Cellini

Currently, I'm reading Chateaubriand's Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem for ''work'' and the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini for pleasure. It should also help with teaching World Civ at some point. I don't focus on the sixteenth-century or the Italian Renaissance in my research, so there are a number of things that I've learned from Cellini's autobiography:

1. By the 1520s, Europeans are using a firearm called an arquebuse, similar to a musket. It seems to have the same problems as early muskets- Cellini blows a hole in his hand firing it.

2. Cellini worked as goldsmith to a number of people, including Alessandro de Medici, the first Duke of Florence, who was killed by his cousin Lorenzino in 1537.

3. There is a surprising amount of violence in the autobiography. Cellini is something of a hothead anyway and he kills a number of people, including an untold number fighting off Charles III's siege of Rome in 1527. We're used to thinking of the Renaissance artists as kindly and patient, but they were anything but that. Camille Paglia has attributed this misconception to the fact that studies on these artists have been written by kindly and patient humanists who projected themselves onto their subjects. These artists had posses, vendettas, and street fights.

4. In spite of working for a number of Popes and seeming to be relatively Catholic, Cellini is a big believer in astrology and tries to summon demons to lead him to treasure with a necromancer who, if I'm not mistaken, is also part of the clergy! So the beliefs are not mutually exclusive at this time.

5. The plague is also a regular occurance. In one horrifying episode, Cellini returns home to discover that his father and everyone in the house have died of plague, and he himself suffers numerous illnesses. Medicine of the era is fairly crude. One amusing line- ''Meanwhile, I came to life again by the means of more than twenty leeches applied to my buttocks, but with my body bored through, bound, and ground to powder.'' Certainly a mixed outcome!

6. Spontoon- A European lance that came into use after the pike and which was widely used by the 1600s. It was first used by the Italians. Cellini is attacked with one sometime around 1540. Cool pictures here.

7. The French crown apparently paid Leonardo da Vinci five hundred golden crowns for his work. Cellini holds out until they pay him the same amount.

8. 1539- Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and troops take Tunis.

9. 1544- During the Italian War of 1542-1546, the HRE's Imperial Army gets as far as Epernay, twenty leagues from Paris. This is settled with the Treaty of Crépy. However, France and England keep fighting until June 1546.


Holly said...

Tru dat, about artists. There's a *reason* artists are considered disreputable and kind of dirty. For example, Caravaggio was a serious brawler, and got into trouble--often--for making sure everyone knew his models were totally unsavory characters. Portraying the Virgin with dirty feet was just one uproar-causing consequence of this clash between high-brow Church-driven art and low-brow drunken barn dance aesthetic lack of class on the part of the freakishly talented artist.

Rufus said...

I've heard before that the students of one Renaissance artist tried to kill his rival in the street, but I can't remember which artist it was.