Benvenuto Cellini

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Cellini, Benvenuto

(chĕlē`nē, Ital. bānvāno͞o`tō chāl-lē`nē), 1500–1571, Italian sculptor, metalsmith, and author. His remarkable autobiography (written 1558–62), which reads like a picaresque novel, is one of the most important documents of the 16th cent. Cellini tells of his escapades with the frankness and consummate egoism characteristic of the Renaissance man. He was born in Florence, the son of a musician; he studied music until his 15th year, when he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. Banished from Florence after fighting a duel, he went from town to town working for local goldsmiths and in 1519 went to Rome. Under the patronage of Pope Clement VII he became known as the most skillful worker in metals of his day, producing medals, jewel settings, caskets, vases, candlesticks, metal plates, and ornaments. Imprisoned on false charges, he worked at the court of Francis I at Paris after his release. He returned to Florence (1545), remaining until his death. The decorative quality of his work, its intricate and exquisite detail, and its workmanship are typical of the best of the period. Unfortunately, most of his works have perished. The famous gold and enamel saltcellar (Saliera) of Francis I (Vienna Mus.) and the gold medallion of Leda and the Swan (Vienna Mus.) are perhaps the best examples of those remaining. His sculptures, most of them executed in the later Florentine period, include the colossal bronze bust of Cosimo I (Bargello); the bronze bust of Altoviti (Gardner Mus., Boston); the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Louvre); the life-size Crucifixion, a white marble Jesus on a black cross (Escorial); and the renowned Perseus with the Head of Medusa (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence), a beautifully wrought bronze statue surmounting a marble pedestal lavishly adorned with statuettes and carvings.


See translation of his autobiography by J. A. Symonds (1888; many later editions).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cellini, Benvenuto


Born Nov. 3, 1500, in Florence; died there Feb. 13, 1571. Italian sculptor, goldsmith, and writer.

Cellini studied with the goldsmith M. Bandinelli and was influenced by Michelangelo. He worked in Florence, Pisa, Bologna, Venice, Rome (1532–40), and Paris, as well as at the court of Francis I at Fontainebleau (1540–45).

One of the most notable masters of mannerism, Cellini produced virtuoso sculptures and jewelry marked by delicate, exaggeratedly elongated figures, often with complex curves. Examples are the saltcellar made for Francis I (gold, enamel, precious gems; 1539–43, Museum of Art History, Vienna), Narcissus (marble, 1540’s, National Museum, Florence), and The Escorial Crucifix (marble, 1562, the Escorial, Spain). Cellini boldly resolved the problems of creating sculptures in the round, especially in the statue Perseus With the Head of Medusa (bronze, 1545–54, Loggia dei Lanzi), which, like many of Cellini’s other works, is characterized by excessive detail.

Cellini gained world fame as a writer from his Life, which he dictated between 1558 and 1565 (1st ed., 1728; Russian translation, 1848). An autobiography reading like a picaresque novel, Cellini’s Life is noted for directness of narration. Ignoring the norms of literary style and the rules of grammar, Cellini used the language of the streets to re-create vividly the personality of the late Renaissance man in Italy.

Cellini also was interested in art theory. In 1568 he wrote two treatises, one on goldsmithing and the other on sculpture.


Vila, a cura di G. G. Ferrero. Turin, 1959.
In Russian translation:
Zhizn’. Translated by M. Lozinskii. Introduction by A. K. Dzhivelegov. Moscow-Leningrad [1931].
Zhizn, 2nd ed. Translated by M. Lozinskii. Introduction by L. Pinskii. Moscow, 1958.


Dzhivelegov, A. K. Ocherki ital’ianskogo Vozrozhdeniia. Kastil’one, Aretino, Chellini. Moscow, 1929.
Vipper, B. R. “Benvenuto Chellini.” In Stat’i ob iskusstve. [Moscow, 1970.]
Camesasca, E. Tutta l’opera del Cellini. Milan, 1955.
Calamandrei, P. Scritti e inediti celliniani. Florence, 1971.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cellini, Benvenuto

(1500–1571) Italian sculptor and author of important autobiography. [Ital. Lit.: NCE, 488]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.