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


ABOUT this time the great block of marble arrived which was intended for the Neptune. It had been brought up the Arno, and then by the Grieve to the road at Poggio a Caiano, in order to be carried to Florence by that level way; and there I went to see it. Now I knew very well that the Duchess by her special influence had managed to have it given to Bandinello. No envy prompted me to dispute his claims, but rather pity for that poor unfortunate piece of marble. Observe, by the way, that everything, whatever it may be, which is subject to an evil destiny, although one tries to save it from some manifest evil, falls at once into far worse plight; as happened to this marble when it came into the hands of Bartolommeo Ammanato, of whom I shall speak the truth in its proper place. After inspecting this most splendid block, I measured it in every direction, and on returning to Florence, made several little models suited to its proportions. Then I went to Poggio a Caiano, where the Duke and Duchess were staying, with their son the Prince. I found them all at table, the Duke and Duchess dining in a private apartment; so I entered into conversation with the Prince. We had been speaking for a long while, when the Duke, who was in a room adjacent, heard my voice, and condescended very graciously to send for me. When I presented myself before their Excellencies, the Duchess addressed me in a very pleasant tone; and having thus opened the conversation, I gradually introduced the subject of that noble block of marble I had seen. I then proceeded to remark that their ancestors had brought the magnificent school of Florence to such a pitch of excellence only by stimulating competition among artists in their several branches. It was thus that the wonderful cupola and the lovely doors of San Giovanni had been produced, together with those multitudes of handsome edifices and statues which made a crown of artistic glory for their city above anything the world had seen since the days of the ancients. Upon this the Duchess, with some anger, observed that she very well knew what I meant, and bade me never mention that block of marble in her presence, since she did not like it. I replied: “So, then, you do not like me to act as the attorney of your Excellencies, and to do my utmost to ensure your being better served? Reflect upon it, my lady; if your most illustrious Excellencies think fit to open the model for a Neptune to competition, although you are resolved to give it to Bandinello, this will urge Bandinello for his own credit to display greater art and science than if he knew he had no rivals. In this way, my princes, you will be far better served, and will not discourage our school of artists; you will be able to perceive which of us is eager to excel in the grand style of our noble calling, and will show yourselves princes who enjoy and understand the fine arts.” The Duchess, in a great rage, told me that I tired her patience out; she wanted the marble for Bandinello, adding: “Ask the Duke; for his Excellency also means Bandinello to have it.” When the Duchess had spoken, the Duke, who had kept silence up to this time, said: “Twenty years ago I had that fine block quarried especially for Bandinello, and so I mean that Bandinello shall have it to do what he likes with it.” I turned to the Duke and spoke as follows: “My lord, I entreat your most illustrious Excellency to lend a patient hearing while I speak four words in your service.” He told me to say all I wanted, and that he would listen. Then I began: “You will remember, my lord, that the marble which Bandinello used for his Hercules and Cacus was quarried for our incomparable Michel Agnolo Buonarroti. He had made the model for a Samson with four figures, which would have been the finest masterpiece in the whole world; but your Bandinello got out of it only two figures, both ill-executed and bungled in the worst manner; wherefore our school still exclaims against the great wrong which was done to that magnificent block. I believe that more than a thousand sonnets were put up in abuse of that detestable performance; and I know that your most illustrious Excellency remembers the fact very well. Therefore, my powerful prince, seeing how the men to whose care that work was entrusted, in their want of taste and wisdom, took Michel Agnolo’s marble away from him, and gave it to Bandinello, who spoilt it in the way the whole world knows, oh! will you suffer this far more splendid block, although it belongs to Bandinello, to remain in the hands of that man who cannot help mangling it, instead of giving it to some artist of talent capable of doing it full justice? Arrange, my lord, that every one who likes shall make a model; have them all exhibited to the school; you then will hear what the school thinks; your own good judgment will enable you to select the best; in this way, finally, you will not throw away your money, nor discourage a band of artists the like of whom is not to be found at present in the world, and who form the glory of your most illustrious Excellency.”

The Duke listened with the utmost graciousness; then he rose from table, and turning to me, said: “Go, my Benvenuto, make a model, and earn that fine marble for yourself; for what you say is the truth, and I acknowledge it.” The Duchess tossed her head defiantly, and muttered I know not what angry sentences.

I made them a respectful bow and returned to Florence, burning with eagerness to set hands upon my model.