The son of Giovanni Cellini, a Florentine musician and maker of musical instruments, Benvenuto Cellini (chayl-LEE-nee) was named Benvenuto (which literally means “welcome”) because he was the first son born to his parents, who had been married eighteen years. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a Florentine goldsmith, Marcone, although his father long clung to the hope of making the boy a musician; in fact, largely in deference to his father’s wishes, Cellini did become a skillful flutist but resented the interference of “that accursed music” with his own preference for metal working and sculpture.
Always quarrelsome, he was banished from Florence for six months because of a fight. He went to Siena and Bologna, where he engaged in metal work, and at the age of nineteen he made his first trip to Rome. There, some of his work for the bishop of Salamanca attracted the notice of Pope Clement VII, to whose court he became attached as a musician. By his own account, he took part in the defense of Rome against the army of the Constable de Bourbon, performing, as he puts it, “incredible” feats of valor, including the shooting of the Bourbon himself.
After an interval spent in Florence and at the court of the duke of Mantua, Cellini returned to Rome, where he was employed in setting jewelry and in executing dies for private medallions, as well as for the papal mint. By 1529, he seems to have committed at least two homicides as well as to have been engaged in a...
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