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Benvenuto Cellini

Bronze Sculptor 1500 - 1571

Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence on 3rd November 1500. The son of Giovanni Cellini and Maria Lisabetta Granacci, Benvenuto was pushed towards music but when he was fifteen, his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to a goldsmith.

After a visit to Pisa and two periods of living in Florence, when he was visited by the sculptor Torrigiano, he moved to Rome, at the age of nineteen. His first works in Rome were a silver casket, a vase for the bishop of Salamanca and silver candlesticks. Another piece that has been widely celebrated is the gold medallion of 'Leda and the Swan', executed for the Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino', and now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

In the attack on Rome by Charles III, Cellini's bravery was illustrated to the pontiff. According to his own accounts, he shot and injured Philibert of Chalon and killed Charles III during the Siege of Rome. His bravery led to a reconciliation with Florentine magistrates (he'd already attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an affray with friends at the age of 16), and he soon returned to Florence. Here he devoted himself to crafting materials.

From Florence, he went to the court of the duke of Mantua and then back to Florence. On returning to Rome, he was employed to create jewellery and dies for private medals and the papal mint. In 1529, his brother Cecchino killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and in turn was wounded by a rifleman, later dying of this wound. Soon after this, Benvenuto killed his brother's killer, an act of brutal revenge when even he admitted that his brother's killer had acted in self-defense. He fled to Naples to shelter from the consequences of an affray with Ser Benedetto, whom he had wounded. Thanks to the influence of several cardinals, he received a pardon for his crimes, but he fled back to Florence and then Venice, where he was restored with greater honour than ever before.

After five years or so, he returned to Florence, where he continued to work as a goldsmith and became the rival of fellow sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. During the following war with Siena, Cellini was appointed to strengthen the defences of the city and continued to gain the admiration of his fellow citizens by producing stunning work. He was named a member of the prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno of Florence but sadly passed away in Florence on 13 May 1571.

His most famous sculpture was the bronze group of Perseus with the Head of Medusa, that now stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. This piece was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes. While it caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, it was hailed as a masterpiece as soon as it was completed.