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Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Autobiography.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


I COULD see that this speech made no impression on the Duke, for he kept silence; then, seized with sudden anger and a vehement emotion, I began again to address him: “My lord, this city of a truth has ever been the school of the most noble talents. Yet when a man has come to know what he is worth, after gaining some acquirements, and wishing to augment the glory of his town and of his glorious prince, it is quite right that he should go and labour elsewhere. To prove the truth of these words, I need only remind your Excellency of Donatello and the great Lionardo da Vinci in the past, and of our incomparable Michel Angelo Buonarroti in the present; they augment the glory of your Excellency by their genius. I in my turn feel the same desire and hope to play my part like them; therefore, my lord, give me the leave to go. But beware of letting Bandinello quit you; rather bestow upon him always more than he demands; for if he goes into foreign parts, his ignorance is so presumptuous that he is just the man to disgrace our most illustrious school. Now grant me my permission, prince! I ask no further reward for my labours up to this time than the gracious favour of your most illustrious Excellency.” When he saw the firmness of my resolution, he turned with some irritation and exclaimed: “Benvenuto, if you want to finish the statue, you shall lack for nothing.” Then I thanked him and said I had no greater desire than to show those envious folk that I had it in me to execute the promised work. When I left his Excellency, I received some slight assistance; but this not being sufficient, I had to put my hand into my own purse, in order to push the work forward at something better than a snail’s pace.

It was my custom to pass the evening in the Duke’s wardrobe, where Domenico Poggini and his brother Gianpagolo were at work upon that golden cup for the Duchess and the girdle I have already described. His Excellency had also commissioned me to make a little model for a pendent to set the great diamond which Bernardone and Antonio Landi made him buy. I tried to get out of doing it, but the Duke compelled me by all sorts of kindly pressure to work until four hours after nightfall. He kept indeed enticing me to push this job forward by daytime also; but I would not consent, although I felt sure I should incur his anger. Now one evening I happened to arrive rather later than usual, whereupon he said: “I’ll come may you be!” I answered: “My lord, that is not my name; my name is Welcome! But, as I suppose your Excellency is joking, I will add no more.” He replied that, far from joking, he meant solemn earnest. I had better look to my conduct, for it had come to his ears that I relied upon his favour to take in first one man and then another. I begged his most illustrious Excellency to name a single person whom I had ever taken in. At this he flew into a rage, and said: “Go, and give back to Bernardone what you have of his. There! I have mentioned one.” I said: “My lord, I thank you, and beg you to condescend so far as to listen to four words. It is true that he lent me a pair of old scales, two anvils, and three little hammers, which articles I begged his workman, Giorgio da Cortona, fifteen days ago, to fetch back. Giorgio came for them himself. If your Excellency can prove, on referring to those who have spoken these calumnies, or to others, that I have ever, from the day of my birth till now, got any single thing by fraud from anybody, be it in Rome or be it in France, then let your Excellency punish me as immoderately as you choose.” When the Duke saw me in this mighty passion, he assumed the air of a prudent and benevolent lord, saying: “Those words are not meant for well-doers; therefore, if it is as you say, I shall always receive you with the same kindness as heretofore.” To this I answered: “I should like your Excellency to know that the rascalities of Bernardone compel me to ask as a favor how much that big diamond with the cropped point cost you. I hope to prove on what account that scoundrel tries to bring me into disgrace.” Then his Excellency replied: “I paid 25,000 ducats for it; why do you ask me?” “Because, my lord, on such a day, at such an hour, in a corner of Mercato Nuovo, Antonio Landi, the son of Vittorio, begged me to induce your Excellency to buy it, and at my first question he asked 16,000 ducats for the diamond; now your Excellency knows what it has cost you. Domenico Poggini and Gianpagolo his brother, who are present, will confirm my words; for I spoke to them at once about it, and since that time have never once alluded to the matter, because your Excellency told me I did not understand these things, which made me think you wanted to keep up the credit of your stone. I should like you to know, my lord, that I do understand, and that, as regards my character, I consider myself no less honest than any man who ever lived upon this earth. I shall not try to rob you of eight or ten thousand ducats at one go, but shall rather seek to earn them by my industry. I entered the service of your Excellency as sculptor, goldsmith, and stamper of coin; but to blab about my neighbour’s private matters,—never! What I am now telling you I say in self-defence; I do not want my fee for information. If I speak out in the presence of so many worthy fellows as are here, it is because I do not wish your Excellency to believe what Bernardone tells you.”

When he had heard this speech, the Duke rose up in anger, and sent for Bernardone, who was forced to take flight as far as Venice, he and Antonio Landi with him. The latter told me that he had not meant that diamond, but was talking of another stone. So then they went and came again from Venice; whereupon I presented myself to the Duke and spoke as follows: “My lord, what I told you is the truth; and what Bernardone said about the tools he lent me is a lie. You had better put this to the proof, and I will go at once to the Bargello.” The Duke made answer: “Benvenuto, do your best to be an honest man, as you have done until now; you have no cause for apprehension.” So the whole matter passed off in smoke, and I heard not one more word about it. I applied myself to finishing his jewel; and when I took it to the Duchess, her Grace said that she esteemed my setting quite as highly as the diamond which Bernardaccio had made them buy. She then desired me to fasten it upon her breast, and handed me a large pin, with which I fixed it, and took my leave in her good favour. Afterwards I was informed that they had the stone reset by a German or some other foreigner—whether truly or not I cannot vouch—upon Bernardone’s suggestion that the diamond would show better in a less elaborate setting.