Home  »  Autobiography  »  LXXXVII

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


DURING those days some antiquities had been discovered in the country round Arezzo. Among them was the Chimæra, that bronze lion which is to be seen in the rooms adjacent to the great hall of the palace. Together with the Chimæra a number of little statuettes, likewise in bronze, had been brought to light; they were covered with earth and rust, and each of them lacked either head or hands or feet. The Duke amused his leisure hours by cleaning up these statuettes himself with certain little chisels used by goldsmiths. It happened on one occasion that I had to speak on business to his Excellency; and while we were talking, he reached me a little hammer, with which I struck the chisels the Duke held, and so the figures were disengaged from their earth and rust. In this way we passed several evenings, and then the Duke commissioned me to restore the statuettes. He took so much pleasure in these trifles that he made me work by day also, and if I delayed coming, he used to send for me. I very often submitted to his Excellency that if I left my Perseus in the daytime, several bad consequences would ensue. The first of these, which caused me the greatest anxiety, was that, seeing me spend so long a time upon my statue, the Duke himself might get disgusted; which indeed did afterwards happen. The other was that I had several journeymen who in my absence were up to two kinds of mischief; first, they spoilt my piece, and then they did as little work as possible. These arguments made his Excellency consent that I should only go to the palace after twenty-four o’clock.

I had now conciliated the affection of his Excellency to such an extent, that every evening when I came to him he treated me with greater kindness. About this time the new apartments were built toward the lions; the Duke then wishing to be able to retire into a less public part of the palace, fitted up for himself a little chamber in these new lodgings, and ordered me approach to it by a private passage. I had to pass through his wardrobe, then across the stage of the great hall, and afterwards through certain little dark galleries and cabinets. The Duchess, however, after a few days, deprived me of this means of access by having all the doors upon the path I had to traverse locked up. The consequence was that every evening when I arrived at the palace, I had to wait a long while, because the Duchess occupied the cabinets for her personal necessities. Her habit of body was unhealthy, and so I never came without incommoding her. This and other causes made her hate the very sight of me. However, nothwithstanding great discomforts and daily annoyances, I persevered in going. The Duke’s orders, meanwhile, were so precise, that no sooner did I knock at those doors, than they were immediately opened, and I was allowed to pass freely where I chose. The consequence was that occasionally, while walking noiselessly and unexpectedly through the private rooms, I came upon the Duchess at a highly inconvenient moment. Bursting then into such a furious storm of rage that I was frightened, she cried out: “When will you ever finish mending up those statuettes? Upon my word, this perpetual going and coming of yours has grown to be too great a nuisance.” I replied as gently as I could: “My lady and sole mistress, I have no other desire than to serve you loyally and with the strictest obedience. This work to which the Duke has put me will last several months; so tell me, most illustrious Excellency, whether you wish me not to come here any more. In that case I will not come, whoever calls me; nay, should the Duke himself send for me, I shall reply that I am ill, and by no means will I intrude again.” To this speech she made answer: “I do not bid you not to come, nor do I bid you to disobey the Duke; but I repeat that your work seems to me as though it would never be finished.”

Whether the Duke heard something of this encounter, or whatever the cause was, he began again as usual. Toward twenty-four o’clock he sent for me; and his messenger always spoke to this effect: “Take good care, and do not fail to come, for the Duke is waiting for you.” In this way I continued, always with the same inconveniences, to put in an appearance on several successive evenings. Upon one occasion among others, arriving in my customary way, the Duke, who had probably been talking with the Duchess about private matters, turned upon me in a furious anger. I was terrified, and wanted to retire. But he called out: “Come in, friend Benvenuto; go to your affairs; I will rejoin you in a few moments.” While I was passing onward, Don Garzia, then quite a little fellow, plucked me by the cape, and played with me as prettily as such a child could do. The Duke looked up delighted, and exclaimed: “What pleasant and friendly terms my boys are on with you!”