- Benvenuto Cellini: Sculptor, Goldsmith, Writer
Just like Benvenuto Cellini, this collection of essays on the great goldsmith, engraver, sculptor, and writer of the sixteenth century was also born under an auspicious star and in an idyllic setting — at the annual meeting of The Renaissance Society of America, held in Florence in March 2000. Unlike Cellini, however, its opinion of itself is a lot more moderate. Although it is, as the editors point out in the opening sentence of their introduction, the first anthology in English on Cellini, it wisely chooses to remain within the bounds of modesty, offering the reader only nine articles that cover a number of emblematic works by [End Page 865] this rather heterogeneous artist, but not everything. Because of this Tuscan simplicity, the collection is both enlightening and manageable. The stunning color plates of the saltcellar, the restored Perseus, the Crucifix from the Escorial, the bust of Duke Cosimo I from the Bargello, and two of the medals for Pope Clement VII are supplemented by a good number of illustrations, all but two well placed within their respective articles (illustrations 31 and 32 should have been set on facing pages, not back-to-back, so as to let readers compare them more easily, as the author invites them to do).
Jane Tylus opens the collection with a thorough analysis of Cellini's reuse of the myth of "inimitability," already common coinage in references to Michelangelo and his works. As she points out, Cellini not only appropriated the myth, but actually sought to snatch it away from Michelangelo. By carefully analyzing Cellini's rhetoric about his own works, Tylus traces his attempts to demote the expatriate master to the realm of the "imitable" and then place himself as the sole "inimitable" artist in the Tuscan tradition. Coming on the wake of Vasari's Vite, Cellini's Vita is, as we all know, a tour-de-force in self-aggrandizement, but also, as Tylus points out, an invaluable document in a discussion of inimitabilità in Counter-Reformation Italy. Patricia L. Reilly's article continues the focus on Cellini's writings, but redirects it to his treatise on the art of drawing, arguing that the work "reveals the tensions and strife that existed among the members of the newly founded artists' academy" (26), in particular among Cellini and Alessandro Allori and Giorgio Vasari.
At this point, Michael Cole interjects with an article on Cellini's workshop. Comparing what Cellini says in the Vita about how he did things to what his workshop account books actually record, Cole is able to puncture holes in the inflated balloon of Cellini's singlehanded universality, advanced not only by the master himself, but by a number of subsequent writers (starting with Goethe and continuing through Burckhardt to the present day). Cellini did not work alone, but paid a gamut of experts to advise him, assist him, and even cast for him. When patronage and then funds ran out, Cellini was left to fend for himself. As Cole points out, penury reduced both Cellini's workshop and his aspirations, obliging him to abandon bronze and to focus instead on less-expensive and less-arduous materials, such as marble, which he could carve on his own.
With Marina Belozerskaya's article on the famous saltcellar for King Francis I we enter into the more traditional field of fine artistical analysis and interpretation. Moving from the object to its contents, Belozerskaya illuminates our understanding of, and appreciation for, the piece by connecting it with Francis's efforts to control the salt trade within his realm while, at the same time, wrestling away the spice trade from the Portuguese. Similarly, Philip Attwood's article "Cellini's Coins and Medals" focuses on Cellini's use of classical sources, both in the imagery he used and in the models he followed.
Gwendolyn Trottein's article on "Cellini as Iconographer" presents the artist as a man "jealous of his intellectual autonomy" (125...