Benvenuto Cellini

WHAT first prompted me to write, was the knowledge of how fond people are of hearing anything new. Then in the second place, & this perhaps had greater weight still, I felt much troubled in mind because of all sorts of annoying things the which I purpose in the following treatise, with due modesty, to recount. That they will move my readers to great pity & no little anger in my behalf I am quite positive. Forsooth you can often attribute to difficulties of this kind the most opposite turns, to the greatest of evil the greatest of good, and had the troubles in question never come upon me, I for sure should never have set about writing down these most useful things. Thus it was that I did what no one had done before,* viz., undertook to write about those loveliest secrets and wondrous methods of the great art of goldsmithing. Things such as neither your philosopher, no, nor any other kind of man neither, if he be not of the craft, durst write about. But since they of the craft are for the most part better at work than at talk, they fall into the error of silence. This at least I determined to avoid and so set myself strenuously to the task. Perhaps never before, or at least so rarely that it has never been recorded, has a man been found who was a specialist in more than one or at most two of the eight different branches of this goodly art, but where he is, he knows, as you may imagine, how to make a good thing of them. Mind you, I don't intend to talk about those kinds of muddlers who set themselves busily dabbling in all the eight branches at once, and who many and many a time are employed by such as either couldn't or wouldn't decide whether a bit of work was good or whether it was bad. Men of that ilk methinks may be likened to the sort of small shopkeeper who hangs out in the slums or suburbs of the town and does a little now in the bakery line, now in the grocery line, now in the apothecary line and now in general retail business—in fact, a little bit of everything and nothing good in anything. These sorts of fellows I don't intend to talk about, but only of such as have come to the front in what they have done ; and only of the right workmanlike way of doing things. Well, then, I mind me to begin with, of our city of Florence and of how we there were the first to revive all those arts that are the sisters of this art of mine; of how the earliest light dawned in the time of that first magnificent Cosimo de Medici; of how under him nourished Donatello the great sculptor, and Pippo di Ser Brunelleschi the great architect, and of that wondrous Lorenzo Ghiberti, in whose time were made the beautiful gates for what was once the ancient temple of Mars and is now the baptistery of our patron St. John.
Lorenzo Ghiberti. He was a goldsmith indeed ! Not only in the wonderfulness of his own peculiar style, but because of his unwearied power of marvelous finish, and his exceeding diligence in execution. This man, who must be counted among the most admirable of goldsmiths, applied himself to everything, but especially to the casting of smaller work. And though now and then he set about doing large pieces, yet one can see that his particular line was the production of small work, and in this branch we may well call him a master in the art of casting. Indeed he pursued this with such excellence that as is still obvious to all, no man can touch him.
Antonio Pollajuolo, or the poulterer's son, as he is always called, was likewise a goldsmith, and a draughtsman too of such skill, that not only did all the goldsmiths make use of his excellent designs, but the sculptors and painters of the first rank also, and gained honor by them, what was more ! This man did little else besides his admirable drawing, but at this he was always busy.
Maso Finiguerra pursued only the art of engraving niello, in which craft he had no rival, and he too always made use of the designs of the afore-said Antonio.
Amerigo wrought in the art of enamel, & was by far away the first craftsman in it either before or after his time. He too, great as he was, made use of the designs of Antonio del Pollajuolo.
Michelangelo, the goldsmith of Pinzidimonte, was a capital fellow, and worked in a variety of divers things, and especially in the setting of gems. He wrought and designed well in niello, in enamel, in hammered work, and though he come not up to the other distinguished men just named, he deserves much praise. He was the father of Baccino whom Pope Clement made a Knight of St. John. He added the surname Bandinelli on his own account, and since he had neither family nor arms really, he took the sign of his knighthood for a coat. About this man I shall have more than enough to tell as we go along.
Bastiano del Bernardetto Cennini was a goldsmith and worked also in a number of different things. His forefathers and he for many years made the dies for the coins of Florence, until the time that Alexander de Medici, the nephew of Pope Clement, became Duke. This Bastiano in his youth did admirable large metal ware —grosseries and hammered work, and verily he was a first-rate craftsman. And though I said above I wasn't going to talk about bunglers who take up a number of different things indifferently, one must none the less distinguish between those who are bunglers & those who are good craftsmen and worthy of praise.
Piero, Giovanni, and Romolo, were brothers, the sons of one Goro Tavolaccino; they were goldsmiths too, they did good work and made good designs. Amongst other things they were very good at setting jewels in pendants, rings and so forth, and this they managed so tastefully that at that time, 1518, they had no equal. They also worked in intaglio, in bas relief, and were not bad at hammered work.
Stefano Salteregli was a goldsmith too, a good man in his day, working like the others in a number of different things, but he died young.
Zanobi, son of Meo del Lavacchio, whose craft he followed, was a goldsmith also, had a charming way of working and designed admirably; but he died just when his beard began to bloom, at about the age of 20.
Indeed at that time there were many young fellows, whose equal and colleague I was, who promised great things to begin with ; but the most of them has death snatched away, and the rest have either not stuck to the drudgery, or with undeveloped talents have got no further. As for me, I have heard myself blamed because I have talked so much about such excellent men in one profession only; but I have still to tell of work in filigree, an art though the least beautiful of many beautiful arts, still very beautiful for all that.
Piero di Nino was a goldsmith, who worked only in filigree, an art which, while it affords great charm, is not without its difficulties. He, however, knew how to work in it better than anyone else. Inasmuch as there was great riches in those days within the town, so was it likewise in the country, especially among the peasant folk of the plain, who used to get made for their wives a sort of velvet girdle with buckle and pin, about half a cubit long and covered all over with little spangles. These buckles and pins were all wrought in filigree with great delicacy and fashioned in silver of excellent setting. When later on I shall show how these things are made, I am sure the reader will find delight in them. I knew this Piero de Nino when an old man of near 90 years. He died partly from fear of dying of hunger, and partly from a shock he got one night. As for the dying of hunger it was this way: An edict had been issued in the city that no more belts should be worn either by peasants or others; and the poor old fellow, who knew no other branch of goldsmithing but this, was always grieving, and cursing from the bottom of his heart all those who had a hand in making this law. He lived near a draper's shop, where was a young rogue of an urchin, the son of one of them that had made the law. The boy, hearing him thus continually cursing his father, ' Oh, Piero,' said he, 'if you go on swearing like that, some fine day the devil will come and carry you off, bones and all!' Now one Saturday night, when the old chap had worked right up to midnight to finish some job he was engaged on that was to go to Bologna, the urchin took it into his head to play him a practical joke and give him a fright. So he stood on the watch for the old man on his way home. The latter, as was his wont, locked up his shop, took his lantern in his hand, and, with the lappet of his cloak thrown over his head, trudged along ever so slowly, and as lonely as a ghost, home to his house, which stood in the via Mozza.
Just as he was turning the corner of the old market the urchin, who was awaiting in ambush for him, and had tricked himself out with rag-tag, sulphur lights, blue fire, and suchlike horrible devilries, suddenly jumped out upon him. The poor old thing was so terrified at the fearful monster thus suddenly coming at him, that he lost his senses; so much so that the boy, seeing he had played the fool, had to lead the old man home as well as he could, and consign him to the care of his grandsons, among whom was one called Meino, a courier, who afterwards became warden of Arezzo. Suffice it, the fright had been so great, that soon after the poor old fellow died. This is usually stated as the actual cause of Piero's death, and I have myself ofttimes heard it narrated.
Antonio di Sa... another of our Florentine goldsmiths, a capital grosserie worker. He died at a very great age.
Salvatore Pilli likewise was a first-rate man, who also died very old; but he never worked in a shop of his own, but always in someone else's.
Salvatore Guasconti was an all round man, more especially good in small things. His work in niello and enamel is well worthy of praise.
You must know too that there were ever so many others, all of them fellow Florentines, who commenced in the goldsmith's art and took their inspiration from it for various other arts, such as sculpture, architecture, and other notable lines of work.
Donatello, for instance, the greatest sculptor that ever lived, about whom I shall have plenty to say later on, stuck to the goldsmith's art right along into manhood.
Pippo di ser Brunellesco, the first who gave new vigour to the glory of architecture, he too was a goldsmith for a long time.
Lorenzo dalla Golpaia also was a goldsmith, and always continued true to the art. As for him, he was a very prodigy of nature, for he specialized in clock making, and finding his own peculiar bent in this line, so wonderfully reproduced the secret of the heavens and the stars that you really might have thought he lived up in the sky ! Amongst other things he showed his cunning in a clock he made for the magnificent Lorenzo de Medici. In this clock he put the Medici arms, making them represent the seven planets; these used to move round slowly, and revolve just like the planets in the sky do. This clock is still in its place, but it is not what it used to be because it has been so badly taken care of.
Andrea del Verocchio the sculptor, remained a goldsmith up to the time of manhood. He was the master of Lionardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, architect, philosopher, musician;—a veritable angel incarnate of whom I shall have heaps to tell whenever he comes to mind.
Desiderio, too, was a goldsmith in his youth, who took to sculpture later, and was a great master in the art.
I can't possibly recount all our Florentines who were adepts in the great goldsmiths' art, suffice it that I have mentioned most of those who became famous therein. But I will say a word or two about some of the foreigners who seem to me pre-eminent, and I will begin with such as wrought in niello.
Martino* was a goldsmith from beyond the Alps, who came from some German town or other. He was a first-rate fellow in designing,& in intaglio work in the way they do it there. It was just about the time when the fame of our Maso Finiguerra spread abroad, who did those wonderful niello intaglios,—by the way, you may still see preserved in our lovely Church of St. John of Florence a silver pyx of his, with a crucifix above it, & the two malefactors, with a lot of detail of horses and other things.
Antonio del Pollajuolo, whom I mentioned before, did the design, and Maso the Niello work.
Well, then, this good German Martino set to with great diligence and zeal to practice the art of niello, and turned out a number of excellent things. But because he saw that he could not produce work that should come up to our Finiguerra's for beauty and go, yet being a right-minded man, and wishing to do something that should be generally useful, he set to cutting his intaglios on copper plates with the graver {bulino) for so is the little steel tool called with which you engrave. In this wise he engraved a number of pretty little picture-tales, very well composed, and with great understanding of light & shade, in fact as far as one can say such a thing of a piece of German work, they were charming.
Alberto Duro also tried his hand at engraving, and with much greater success than Martino. He too was not satisfied with the results of his work in niello, and so determined to do engravings, and this he did so well that no one can hold a candle to him. He too was a goldsmith, nor was he satisfied with niello only, he resorted in addition to his engraving, and did extraordinarily well in that line.
Andrea Mantegna, our great Italian painter, tried it too, but couldn't do it, so the less said about it the better.
Antonio Pollajuolo, the same happened with him, and because both these men could make nothing of it, I'll say naught but that Mantegna was an excellent painter, and Pollajuolo an excellent draughtsman.
Antonio da Bologna, Marco da Ravenna must also be counted among the goldsmiths. Antonio was the first who began to engrave in the manner of Alberto Duro. He studied closely the work of the great painter Raphael of Urbino. He engraved beautifully, could design in the right good Italian manner, and studied closely the style and methods of those old Greeks, who always know how to do things better than other folk. Many others pursued this branch of engraving, but because none of them came up to the great Alberto Duro, & even also a long way behind our Italian Antonio of Bologna, I'll not mention them...