Book Briefly Noted, Title The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Author Benvenuto Cellini, Rating 4.5, My Life
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
All men of whatsoever quality they be, who have done anything of excellence . . . ought, if they are persons of truth and honesty, to describe their life with their own hand; but they ought not to attempt so fine an enterprise till they have passed the age of forty.
Benvenuto Cellini was a master Florentine goldsmith and sculptor who lived and worked during the time of the High Italian Renaissance, and was also by his lights a great artist, tougher and craftier than anyone around him, could take on many men with a sword and live to tell the tale, was a great lover, usw. His is the most ebullient autobiography I have read, so wonderful, and so full of life!
Perseus, Benvenuto Cellini. Attrib: Morio, cropped, PD-US.
Autobiographies are difficult to write well, as the author’s long look in the mirror can too easily result in a narrow exercise of narcissistic self-regard. Cellini can certainly come across this way, although his great energy and bustle will hold a reader otherwise wearied by a tale sometimes barely restrained from flights of fantasy. The fact that Cellini is indeed regarded as a great artist, and that the details of his artistic accomplishments can be verified elsewhere, brings additional interest and latitude to the broad stokes of his tale.
Even so, about the time a reader might be rolling their eyes and setting the book aside, Cellini’s story becomes much more than braggadocio. Cellini describes events in his life that no one would brag about: Painful errors, career dead-ends, political intrigue which he was unable to maneuver out of, or insolent behavior for which he is punished. His revelation of mistakes and of stupid behaviors serve to make the reader wonder: If Cellini is willing to describe his weaknesses, perhaps he really did take on many swordsmen and defeat them!?
The gioia di vivere that must have driven Cellini’s artistic expression emanates from the dusty old pages of his autobiography. Those with an interest in Renaissance art will be rewarded doubly in the tale by the master artist Cellini’s insights and experiences regarding his times and his techniques and his interactions with some who now grace the history books alongside himself.