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The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini

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in his realm was excellently maintained; for even as his Majesty was
wont to shower rewards and favours upon men of parts and virtue, so did
he ever chastise the troublesome. His Holiness had let me go, not caring
for the service of the said Benvenuto, and the King, when he saw him in
his realm, most willingly adopted him; therefore he now asked for him in
the quality of his own man. Such a demand was certainly one of the most
honourable marks of favour which a man of my sort could desire; yet it
proved the source of infinite annoyance and hurt to me. The Pope was
roused to such fury by the jealous fear he had lest I should go and tell
the whole world how infamously I had been treated, that he kept
revolving ways in which I might be put to death without injury to his
own credit.

The castellan of Sant’ Angelo was one of our Florentines, called Messer
Giorgio, a knight of the Ugolini family. [2] This worthy man showed me
the greatest courtesy, and let me go free about the castle on parole. He
was well aware how greatly I had been wronged; and when I wanted to give
security for leave to walk about the castle, he replied that though he
could not take that, seeing the Pope set too much importance upon my
affair, yet he would frankly trust my word, because he was informed by
every one what a worthy man I was. So I passed my parole, and he granted
me conveniences for working at my trade. I then, reflecting that the
Pope’s anger against me must subside, as well because of my innocence as
because of the favour shown me by the King, kept my shop in Rome open,
while Ascanio, my prentice, came to the castle and brought me things to
work at. I could not indeed do much, feeling myself imprisoned so
unjustly; yet I made a virtue of necessity, and bore my adverse fortune
with as light a heart as I was able.

I had secured the attachment of all the guards and many soldiers of the
castle. Now the Pope used to come at times to sup there, and on those
occasions no watch was kept, but the place stood open like an ordinary
palace. Consequently, while the Pope was there, the prisoners used to be
shut up with great precautions; none such, however, were taken with me,
who had the license to go where I liked, even at those times, about it
precincts. Often then those soldiers told me that I ought to escape, and
that they would aid and abet me, knowing as they did how greatly I had
been wronged. I answered that I had given my parole to the castellan,
who was such a worthy man, and had done me such kind offices. One very
brave and clever soldier used to say to me: “My Benvenuto, you must know
that a prisoner is not obliged, and cannot be obliged, to keep faith,
any more than aught else which befits a free man. Do what I tell you;
escape from that rascal of a Pope and that bastard his son, for both are
bent on having your life by villainy.” I had, however, made my mind up
rather to lose my life than to break the promise I had given that good
man the castellan. So I bore the extreme discomforts of my situation,
and had for companion of misery a friar of the Palavisina house, who was
a very famous preacher. 3

Note 1. Jean de Montluc, brother of the celebrated Marshal, Bishop of
Valence, a friend of Margaret of Navarre, and, like her, a protector of
the Huguenots. He negotiated the election of the Duke of Anjou to the
throne of Poland.

Note 2. It is only known of this man that he was a Knight of Jerusalem,
and had been Commendatore of Prato in 1511.

Note 3. Cellini means Pallavicini. Nothing seems to be known about him,
except that his imprisonment is mentioned in a letter of Caro’s under
date 1540.


THIS man had been arrested as a Lutheran. He was an excellent companion;
but, from the point of view of his religion, I found him the biggest
scoundrel in the world, to whom all kinds of vices were acceptable. His
fine intellectual qualities won my admiration; but I hated his dirty
vices, and frankly taxed him with them. This friar kept perpetually
reminding me that I was in no wise bound to observe faith with the
castellan, since I had become a prisoner. I replied to these arguments
that he might be speaking the truth as a friar, but that as a man he
spoke the contrary; for every one who called himself a man, and not a
monk, was bound to keep his word under all circumstances in which he
chanced to be. I therefore, being a man, and not a monk, was not going
to break the simple and loyal word which I had given. Seeing then that
he could not sap my honour by the subtle and ingenious sophistries he so
eloquently developed, the friar hit upon another way of tempting me. He
allowed some days to pass, during which he read me the sermons of Fra
Jerolimo Savonarola; and these he expounded with such lucidity and
learning that his comment was even finer than the text. I remained in
ecstasies of admiration; and there was nothing in the world I would not
have done for him, except, as I have said, to break my promised word.
When he saw the effect his talents had produced upon my mind, he thought
of yet another method. Cautiously he began to ask what means I should
have taken, supposing my jailers had locked me up, in order to set the
dungeon doors open and effect my flight. I then, who wanted to display
the sharpness of my own wits to so ingenious a man, replied that I was
quite sure of being able to open the most baffling locks and bars, far
more those of our prison, to do which would be the same to me as eating
a bit of new cheese. In order then to gain my secret, the friar now made
light of these assertions, averring that persons who have gained some
credit by their abilities, are wont to talk big of things which, if they
had to put their boasts in action, would speedily discredit them, and
much to their dishonour. Himself had heard me speak so far from the
truth, that he was inclined to think I should, when pushed to proof, end
in a dishonourable failure. Upon this, feeling myself stung to the quick
by that devil of a friar, I responded that I always made a practice of
promising in words less than I could perform in deeds; what I had said
about the keys was the merest trifle; in a few words I could make him
understand that the matter was as I had told it; then, all too
heedlessly, I demonstrated the facility with which my assertions could
be carried into act. He affected to pay little attention; but all the
same he learned my lesson well by heart with keen intelligence.

As I have said above, the worthy castellan let me roam at pleasure over
the whole fortress. Not even at night did he lock me in, as was the
custom with the other prisoners. Moreover, he allowed me to employ
myself as I liked best, with gold or silver or with wax according to my
whim. So then, I laboured several weeks at the bason ordered by Cardinal
Ferrara, but the irksomeness of my imprisonment bred in me a disgust for
such employment, and I took to modelling in wax some little figures of
my fancy, for mere recreation. Of the wax which I used, the friar stole
a piece; and with this he proceeded to get false keys made, upon the
method I had heedlessly revealed to him. He had chosen for his
accomplice a registrar named Luigi, a Paduan, who was in the castellan’s
service. When the keys were ordered, the locksmith revealed their plot;
and the castellan who came at times to see me in my chamber, noticing
the wax which I was using, recognised it at once and exclaimed: “It is
true that this poor fellow Benvenuto has suffered a most grievous wrong;
yet he ought not to have dealt thus with me, for I have ever strained my
sense of right to show him kindness. Now I shall keep him straitly under
lock and key, and shall take good care to do him no more service.”
Accordingly, he had me shut up with disagreeable circumstances, among
the worst of which were the words flung at me by some of his devoted
servants, who were indeed extremely fond of me, but now, on this
occasion, cast in my teeth all the kind offices the castellan had done
me; they came, in fact, to calling me ungrateful, light, and disloyal.
One of them in particular used those injurious terms more insolently
than was decent; whereupon I, being convinced of my innocence, retorted
hotly that I had never broken faith, and would maintain these words at
the peril of my life, and that if he or any of his fellows abused me so
unjustly, I would fling the lie back in his throat. The man, intolerant
of my rebuke, rushed to the castellan’s room, and brought me the wax
with the model of the keys. No sooner had I seen the wax than I told him
that both he and I were in the right; but I begged him to procure for me
an audience with the castellan, for I meant to explain frankly how the
matter stood, which was of far more consequence than they imagined. The
castellan sent for me at once, and I told him the whole course of
events. This made him arrest the friar, who betrayed the registrar, and
the alter ran a risk of being hanged. However, the castellan hushed the
affair up, although it had reached the Pope’s ears; he saved his
registrar from the gallows, and gave me the same freedom as I had before.


WHEN I saw how rigorously this affair was prosecuted, I began to think
of my own concerns, and said: “Supposing another of these storms should
rise, and the man should lose confidence in me, I should then be under
no obligation to him, and might wish to use my wits a little, which
would certainly work their end better than those of that rascally
friar.” So I began to have new sheets of a coarse fabric brought me, and
did not send the dirty ones away. When my servants asked for them, I
bade them hold their tongues, saying I had given the sheets to some of
those poor soldiers; and if the matter came to knowledge, the wretched
fellows ran risk of the galleys. This made my young men and attendants,
especially Felice, keep the secret of the sheets in all loyalty. I
meanwhile set myself to emptying a straw mattress, the stuffing of which
I burned, having a chimney in my prison. Out of the sheets I cut strips,
the third of a cubit in breadth; and when I had made enough in my
opinion to clear the great height of the central keep of Sant’ Angelo, I
told my servants that I had given away what I wanted; they must now
bring me others of a finer fabric, and I would always send back the
dirty ones. This affair was presently forgotten.

Now my workpeople and serving-men were obliged to close my shop at the
order of the Cardinals Santi Quattro [1] and Cornaro, who told me openly
that the Pope would not hear of setting me at large, and that the great
favours shown me by King Francis had done far more harm that good. It
seems that the last words spoken from the King by Monsignor di Morluc
had been to this effect, namely, that the Pope ought to hand me over to
the ordinary judges of the court; if I had done wrong, he could chastise
me; but otherwise, it was but reason that he should set me at liberty.
This message so irritated the Pope that he made his mind up to keep me a
prisoner for life. At the same time, the castellan most certainly did
his utmost to assist me.

When my enemies perceived that my shop was closed, they lost no
opportunity of taunting and reviling those servants and friends of mine
who came to visit me in prison. It happened on one occasion that
Ascanio, who came twice a day to visit me, asked to have a jacket cut
out for him from a blue silk vest of mine I never used. I had only worn
it once, on the occasion when I walked in procession. I replied that
these were not the times nor was I in the place to wear such clothes.
The young man took my refusal of this miserable vest so ill that he told
me he wanted to go home to Tagliacozzo. All in a rage, I answered that
he could not please me better than by taking himself off; and he swore
with passion that he would never show his face to me again. When these
words passed between us, we were walking round the keep of the castle.
It happened that the castellan was also taking the air there; so just
when we met his lordship Ascanio said: “I am going away; farewell for
ever!” I added: “For ever, is my wish too; and thus in sooth shall it
be. I shall tell the sentinels not to let you pass again!” Then, turning
to the castellan, I begged him with all my heart to order the guards to
keep Ascanio out, adding: “This little peasant comes here to add to my
great trouble; I entreat you, therefore, my lord, not to let him enter
any more.” The castellan was much grieved, because he knew him to be a
lad of marvellous talents; he was, moreover, so fair a person that every
one who once set eyes on him seemed bound to love him beyond measure.

The boy went away weeping. That day he had with him a small scimitar,
which it was at times his wont to carry hidden beneath his clothes.
Leaving the castle then, and having his face wet with tears, he chanced
to meet two of my chief enemies, Jeronimo the Perugian, [2] and a
certain Michele, goldsmiths both of them. Michele, being Jeronimo’s
friend and Ascanio’s enemy, called out: “What is Ascanio crying for?
Perhaps his father is dead; I mean that father in the castle!” Ascanio
answered on the instant: “He is alive, but you shall die this minute.”
Then, raising his hand, he struck two blows with the scimitar, both at
the fellow’s head; the first felled him to earth, the second lopped
three fingers off his right hand, though it was aimed at his head. He
lay there like a dead man. The matter was at once reported to the Pope,
who cried in a great fury: “Since the King wants him to be tried, go and
give him three days to prepare his defence!” So they came, and executed
the commission which the Pope had given them.

The excellent castellan went off upon the spot to his Holiness, and
informed him that I was no accomplice in the matter, and that I had sent
Ascanio about his business. So ably did he plead my cause that he saved
my life from this impending tempest. Ascanio meanwhile escaped to
Tagliacozzo, to his home there, whence he wrote begging a thousand times
my pardon, and acknowledging his wrong in adding troubles to my grave
disaster; but protesting that if through God’s grace I came out from the
prison, he meant never to abandon me. I let him understand that he must
mind his art, and that if God set me a large again I would certainly
recall him.

Note 1. Antonio Pucci, a Florentine, Cardinal de’ Quattro Santi Coronati.

Note 2. 'I. e.,' Girolamo Pascucci.


THE CASTELLAN was subject to a certain sickness, which came upon him
every year and deprived him of his wits. The sign of its, approach was
that he kept continually talking, or rather jabbering, to no purpose.
These humours took a different shape each year; one time he thought he
was an oiljar; another time he thought he was a frog, and hopped about
as frogs do; another time he thought he was dead, and then they had to
bury him; not a year passed but he got some such hypochondriac notions
into his head. At this season he imagined that he was a bat, and when he
went abroad to take the air, he used to scream like bats in a high thin
tone; and then he would flap his hands and body as though he were about
to fly. The doctors, when they saw the fit coming on him, and his old
servants, gave him all the distractions they could think of; and since
they had noticed that he derived much pleasure from my conversation,
they were always fetching me to keep him company. At times the poor man
detained me for four or five stricken hours without ever letting me
cease talking. He used to keep me at his table, eating opposite to him,
and never stopped chatting and making me chat; but during those
discourses I contrived to make a good meal. He, poor man, could neither
eat nor sleep; so that at last he wore me out. I was at the end of my
strength; and sometimes when I looked at him, I noticed that his
eyeballs were rolling in a frightful manner, one looking one way and the
other in another.

He took it into his head to ask me whether I had ever had a fancy to
fly. I answered that it had always been my ambition to do those things
which offer the greatest difficulties to men, and that I had done them;
as to flying, the God of Nature had gifted me with a body well suited
for running and leaping far beyond the common average, and that with the
talents I possessed for manual art I felt sure I had the courage to try
flying. He then inquired what methods I should use; to which I answered
that, taking into consideration all flying creatures, and wishing to
imitate by art what they derived from nature, none was so apt a model as
the bat. No sooner had the poor man heard the name bat, which recalled
the humour he was suffering under, than he cried out at the top of his
voice: “He says true-he says true; the bat’s the thing-the bat’s the
thing!” Then he turned to me and said: “Benvenuto, if one gave you the
opportunity, should you have the heart to fly?” I said if he would set
me at liberty, I felt quite up to flying down to Prati, after making
myself a pair of wings out of waxed linen. Thereupon he replied: “I too
should be prepared to take flight; but since the Pope has bidden me
guard you as though you were his own eyes, and I know you a clever devil
who would certainly escape, I shall now have you locked up with a
hundred keys in order to prevent you slipping through my fingers.” I
then began to implore him, and remind him that I might have fled, but
that on account of the word which I had given him I would never have
betrayed his trust: therefore I begged him for the love of God, and by
the kindness he had always shown me, not to add greater evils to the
misery of my present situation. While I was pouring out these
entreaties, he gave strict orders to have me bound and taken and locked
up in prison. On seeing that it could not be helped, I told him before
all his servants: “Lock me well up, and keep good watch on me; for I
shall certainly contrive to escape.” So they took and confined me with
the utmost care.


I THEN began to deliberate upon the best way of making my escape. No
sooner had I been locked in, than I went about exploring my prison; and
when I thought I had discovered how to get out of it, I pondered the
means of descending from the lofty keep, for so the great round central
tower is called. I took those new sheets of mine, which, as I have said
already, I had cut in strips and sewn together; then I reckoned up the
quantity which would be sufficient for my purpose. Having made this
estimate and put all things in order, I looked out a pair of pincers
which I had abstracted from a Savoyard belonging to the guard of the
castle. This man superintended the casks and cisterns; he also amused
himself with carpentering. Now he possessed several pairs of pincers,
among which was one both big and heavy. I then, thinking it would suit
my purpose, took it and hid it in my straw mattress. The time had now
come for me to use it; so I began to try the nails which kept the hinges
of my door in place. [1] The door was double, and the clinching of the
nails could not be seen; so that when I attempted to draw one out, I met
with the greatest trouble; in the end, however, I succeeded. When I had
drawn the first nail, I bethought me how to prevent its being noticed.
For this purpose I mixed some rust, which I had scraped from old iron,
with a little wax, obtaining exactly the same colour as the heads of the
long nails which I had extracted. Then I set myself to counterfeit these
heads and place them on the holdfasts; for each nail I extracted I made
a counterfeit in wax. I left the hinges attached to their door-posts at
top and bottom by means of some of the same nails that I had drawn; but
I took care to cut these and replace them lightly, so that they only
just supported the irons of the hinges.

All this I performed with the greatest difficulty, because the castellan
kept dreaming every night that I had escaped, which made him send from
time to time to inspect my prison. The man who came had the title and
behaviour of a catch-poll. He was called Bozza, and used always to bring
with him another of the same sort, named Giovanni and nicknamed
Pedignone; the latter was a soldier, and Bozza a serving-man. Giovanni
never entered my prison without saying something offensive to me. He
came from the district of Prato, and had been an apothecary in the town
there. Every evening he minutely examined the holdfasts of the hinges
and the whole chamber, and I used to say: “Keep a good watch over me,
for I am resolved by all means to escape.” These words bred a great
enmity between him and me, so that I was obliged to use precautions to
conceal my tools, that is to say, my pincers and a great big poniard and
other appurtenances. All these I put away together in my mattress, where
I also kept the strips of linen I had made. When day broke, I used
immediately to sweep my room out; and though I am by nature a lover of
cleanliness, at that time I kept myself unusually spick and span. After
sweeping up, I made my bed as daintily as I could, laying flowers upon
it, which a Savoyard used to bring me nearly every morning. He had the
care of the cistern and the casks, and also amused himself with
carpentering; it was from him I stole the pincers which I used in order
to draw out the nails from the holdfasts of the hinges.

Note 1. The door seems to have been hung upon hinges with plates nailed
into the posts. Cellini calls these plates 'bandelle.'


WELL, to return to the subject of my bed; when Bozza and Pedignone came,
I always told them to give it a wide berth, so as not to dirty and spoil
it for me. Now and then, just to irritate me, they would touch it
lightly, upon which I cried: “Ah, dirty cowards! I’ll lay my hand on one
of your swords there, and will do you a mischief that will make you
wonder. Do you think you are fit to touch the bed of a man like me? When
I chastise you I shall not heed my own life, for I am certain to take
yours. Let me alone then with my troubles and my tribulations, and don’t
give me more annoyance than I have already; if not, I shall make you see
what a desperate man is able to do.” These words they reported to the
castellan, who gave them express orders never to go near my bed, and
when they came to me, to come without swords, but for the rest to keep a
watchful guard upon me.

Having thus secured my bed from meddlers, I felt as though the main
point was gained; for there lay all things needful to my venture. It
happened on the evening of a certain feast-day that the castellan was
seriously indisposed; his humours grew extravagant; he kept repeating
that he was a bat, and if they heard that Benvenuto had flown away, they
must let him go to catch me up, since he could fly by night most
certainly as well or better than myself; for it was thus he argued:
“Benvenuto is a counterfeit bat, but I am a real one; and since he is
committed to my care, leave me to act; I shall be sure to catch him.” He
had passed several nights in this frenzy, and had worn out all his
servants, whereof I received full information through divers channels,
but especially from the Savoyard, who was my friend at heart.

On the evening of that feast-day, then, I made my mind up to escape,
come what might; and first I prayed most devoutly to God, imploring His
Divine Majesty to protect and succour me in that so perilous a venture.
Afterwards I set to work at all the things I needed, and laboured the
whole of the night. It was two hours before daybreak when at last I
removed those hinges with the greatest toil; but the wooden panel itself
and the bolt too offered such resistance that I could not open the door;
so I had to cut into the wood; yet in the end I got it open, and
shouldering the strips of linen which I had rolled up like bundles of
flax upon two sticks, I went forth and directed my steps towards the
latrines of the keep. Spying from within two tiles upon the roof, I was
able at once to clamber up with ease. I wore a white doublet with a pair
of white hose and a pair of half boots, into which I had stuck the
poniard I have mentioned.

After scaling the roof, I took one end of my linen roll and attached it
to a piece of antique tile which was built into the fortress wall; it
happened to jut out scarcely four fingers. In order to fix the band, I
gave it the form of a stirrup. When I had attached it to that piece of
tile, I turned to God and said: “Lord God, give aid to my good cause;
you know that it is good; you see that I am aiding myself.” Then I let
myself go gently by degrees, supporting myself with the sinews of my
arms, until I touched the ground. There was no moonshine, but the light
of a fair open heaven. When I stood upon my feet on solid earth, I
looked up at the vast height which I had descended with such spirit, and
went gladly away, thinking I was free. But this was not the case; for
the castellan on that side of the fortress had built two lofty walls,
the space between which he used for stable and henyard; the place was
barred with thick iron bolts outside. I was terribly disgusted to find
there was no exit from this trap; but while I paced up and down debating
what to do, I stumbled on a long pole which was covered up with straw.
Not without great trouble I succeeded in placing it against the wall,
and then swarmed up it by the force of my arms until I reached the top.
But since the wall ended in a sharp ridge, I had not strength enough to
drag the pole up after me. Accordingly I made my mind up to use a
portion of the second roll of linen which I had there; the other was
left hanging from the keep of the castle. So I cut a piece off, tied it
to the pole, and clambered down the wall, enduring the utmost toil and
fatigue. I was quite exhausted, and had, moreover, flayed the inside of
my hands, which bled freely. This compelled me to rest awhile, and I
bathed my hands in my own urine. When I thought that my strength was
recovered, I advanced quickly toward the last rampart, which faces
toward Prati. There I put my bundle of linen lines down upon the ground,
meaning to fasten them round a battlement, and descend the lesser as I
had the greater height. But no sooner had I placed the linen, than I
became aware behind me of a sentinel, who was going the rounds. Seeing
my designs interrupted and my life in peril, I resolved to face the
guard. This fellow, when he noticed my bold front, and that I was
marching on him with weapon in hand, quickened his pace and gave me a
wide berth. I had left my lines some little way behind; so I turned with
hasty steps to regain them; and though I came within sight of another
sentinel, he seemed as though he did not choose to take notice of me.
Having found my lines and attached them to the battlement, I let myself
go. On the descent, whether it was that I thought I had really come to
earth and relaxed my grasp to jump, or whether my hands were so tired
that they could not keep their hold, at any rate I fell, struck my head
in falling, and lay stunned for more than an hour and a half, so far as
I could judge.

It was just upon daybreak, when the fresh breeze which blows an hour
before the sun revived me; yet I did not immediately recover my senses,
for I thought my head had been cut off and fancied that I was in
purgatory. With time, little by little, my faculties returned, and I
perceived that I was outside the castle, and in a flash remembered all
my adventures. I was aware of the wound in my head before I knew my leg
was broken; for I put my hands up, and withdrew them covered with blood.
Then I searched the spot well, and judged and ascertained that I had
sustained no injury of consequence there; but when I wanted to stand up,
I discovered that my right leg was broken three inches above the heel.
Not even this dismayed me: I drew forth my poniard with its scabbard;
the latter had a metal point ending in a large ball, which had caused
the fracture of my leg; for the bone, coming into violent contact with
the ball, and not being able to bend, had snapped at that point. I threw
the sheath away, and with the poniard cut a piece of the linen which I
had left. Then I bound my leg up as well as I could, and crawled on all
fours with the poniard in my hand toward the city gate. When I reached
it, I found it shut; but I noticed a stone just beneath the door which
did not appear to be very firmly fixed. This I attempted to dislodge;
after setting my hands to it, and feeling it move, it easily gave way,
and I drew it out. Through the gap thus made I crept into the town.


I HAD crawled more than five hundred paces from the place where I fell,
to the gate by which I entered. No sooner had I got inside than some
mastiff dogs set upon me and bit me badly. When they returned to the
attack and worried me, I drew my poniard and wounded one of them so
sharply that he howled aloud, and all the dogs, according to their
nature, ran after him. I meanwhile made the best way I could on all
fours toward the church of the Trespontina.

On arriving at the opening of the street which leads to Sant’ Agnolo, I
turned off in the direction of San Piero; and now the dawn had risen
over me, and I felt myself in danger. When therefore I chanced to meet a
water-carrier driving his donkey laden with full buckets, I called the
fellow, and begged him to carry me upon his back to the terrace by the
steps of San Piero, adding: “I am an unfortunate young man, who, while
escaping from a window in a love-adventure, have fallen and broken my
leg. The place from which I made my exit is one of great importance; and
if I am discovered, I run risk of being cut to pieces; so for heaven’s
sake lift me quickly, and I will give you a crown of gold.” Saying this,
I clapped my hand to my purse, where I had a good quantity. He took me
up at once, hitched me on his back, and carried me to the raised terrace
by the steps to San Piero. There I bade him leave me, saying he must run
back to his donkey.

I resumed my march, crawling always on all fours, and making for the
palace of the Duchess, wife of Duke Ottavio and daughter of the Emperor.
[1] She was his natural child, and had been married to Duke Alessandro.
I chose her house for refuge, because I was quite certain that many of
my friends, who had come with that great princess from Florence, were
tarrying there; also because she had taken me into favour through
something which the castellan had said in my behalf. Wishing to be of
service to me, he told the Pope that I had saved the city more than a
thousand crowns of damage, caused by heavy rain on the occasion when the
Duchess made her entrance into Rome. He related how he was in despair,
and how I put heart into him, and went on to describe how I had pointed
several large pieces of artillery in the direction where the clouds were
thickest, and whence a deluge of water was already pouring; then, when I
began to fire, the rain stopped, and at the fourth discharge the sun
shone out; and so I was the sole cause of the festival succeeding, to
the joy of everybody. On hearing this narration the Duchess said: “That
Benvenuto is one of the artists of merit, who enjoyed the goodwill of my
late husband, Duke Alessandro, and I shall always hold them in mind if
an opportunity comes of doing such men service.” She also talked of me
to Duke Ottavio. For these reasons I meant to go straight to the house
of her Excellency, which was a very fine palace situated in Borgio

I should have been quite safe from recapture by the Pope if I could have
stayed there; but my exploits up to this point had been too marvellous
for a human being, and God was unwilling to encourage my vainglory;
accordingly, for my own good, He chastised me a second time worse even
than the first. The cause of this was that while I was crawling on all
fours up those steps, a servant of Cardinal Cornaro recognized me. His
master was then lodging in the palace; so the servant ran up to his room
and woke him, crying: “Most reverend Monsignor, your friend Benvenuto is
down there; he has escaped from the castle, and is crawling on all
fours, streaming with blood; to all appearances he has broken a leg, and
we don’t know whether he is going.” The Cardinal exclaimed at once: “Run
and carry him upon your back into my room here.” When I arrived, he told
me to be under no apprehension, and sent for the first physicians of
Rome to take my case in hand. Among them was Maestro Jacomo of Perugia,
a most excellent and able surgeon. He set the bone with dexterity, then
bound the limb up, and bled me with his own hand. It happened that my
veins were swollen far beyond their usual size, and he too wished to
make a pretty wide incision; accordingly the blood sprang forth so
copiously, and spurted with such force into his face, that he had to
abandon the operation. He regarded this as a very bad omen, and could
hardly be prevailed upon to undertake my cure. Indeed, he often
expressed a wish to leave me, remembering that he ran no little risk of
punishment for having treated my case, or rather for having proceeded to
the end with it. The Cardinal had me placed in a secret chamber, and
went off immediately to beg me from the Pope.

Note 1. Margaret of Austria, who married Ottavio Farnese in November
1538, after Alessandro’s murder.


DURING this while all Rome was in an uproar; for they had observed the
bands of linen fastened to the great keep of the castle, and folk were
running in crowds to behold so extraordinary a thing. The castellan had
gone off into one of his worst fits of frenzy; in spite of all his
servants, he insisted upon taking his flight also from the tower, saying
that no one could recapture me except himself if he were to fly after
me. Messer Ruberto Pucci, the father of Messer Pandolfo, [1] having
heard of the great event, went in person to inspect the place;
afterwards he came to the palace, where he met with Cardinal Cornaro,
who told him exactly what had happened, and how I was lodged in one of
his own chambers, and already in the doctor’s hands. These two worthy
men went together, and threw themselves upon their knees before the
Pope; but he, before they could get a word out, cried aloud: “I know all
that you want of me.” Messer Ruberto Pucci then began: “Most blessed
Father, we beg you for Heaven’s grace to give us up that unfortunate
man; surely his great talents entitle him to exceptional treatment;
moreover, he has displayed such audacity, blent with so much ingenuity,
that his exploit might seem superhuman. We know not for what crimes you
Holiness has kept him so long in prison; however, if those crimes are
too exorbitant, your Holiness is wise and holy, and may your will be
done unquestioned; still, if they are such as can be condoned, we
entreat you to pardon him for our sake.” The Pope, when he heard this,
felt shame, and answered: “I have kept him in prison at the request of
some of my people, since he is a little too violent in his behaviour;
but recognising his talents, and wishing to keep him near our person, we
had intended to treat him so well that he should have no reason to
return to France. I am very sorry to hear of his bad accident; tell him
to mind his health, and when he is recovered, we will make it up to him
for all his troubles.”

Those two excellent men returned and told me the good news they were
bringing from the Pope. Meanwhile the nobility of Rome, young, old, and
all sorts, came to visit me. The castellan, out of his mind as he was,
had himself carried to the Pope; and when he was in the presence of his
Holiness, began to cry out, and to say that if he did not send me back
to prison, he would do him a great wrong. “He escaped under parole which
he gave me; woe is me that he has flown away when he promised not to
fly!” The Pope said, laughing: “Go, go; for I will give him back to you
without fail.” The castellan then added, speaking to the Pope: “Send the
Governor to him to find out who helped him to escape; for if it is one
of my men, I will hang him from the battlement whence Benvenuto leaped.”
On his departure the Pope called the Governor, and said, smiling: “That
is a brave fellow, and his exploit is something marvellous; all the
same, when I was a young man, I also descended from the fortress at that
very spot.” In so saying the Pope spoke the truth: for he had been
imprisoned in the castle for forging a brief at the time when he was
abbreviator 'di Parco Majoris.' [2] Pope Alexander kept him confined for
some length of time; and afterwards, his offence being of too ugly a
nature, had resolved on cutting off his head. He postponed the
execution, however, till after Corpus Domini; and Farnese, getting wind
of the Pope’s will, summoned Pietro Chiavelluzi with a lot of horses,
and managed to corrupt some of the castle guards with money.
Accordingly, upon the day of Corpus Domini, while the Pope was going in
procession, Farnese got into a basket and was let down by a rope to the
ground. At that time the outer walls had not been built around the
castle; only the great central tower existed; so that he had not the
same enormous difficulty that I met with in escaping; moreover, he had
been imprisoned justly, and I against all equity. What he wanted was to
brag before the Governor of having in his youth been spirited and brave;
and it did not occur to him that he was calling attention to his own
huge rogueries. He said then: “Go and tell him to reveal his accomplice
without apprehension to you, be the man who he may be, since I have
pardoned him; and this you may assure him without reservation.”

Note 1. See above, p. 114.

Note 2. The Collegium Abbreviatorum di Parco Majori consisted of
seventy-two members. It was established by Pius II. Onofrio Panvinio
tells this story of Paul III.’s imprisonment and escape, but places it
in the Papacy of Innocent VIII. See 'Vita Pauli' III., in continuation
of Platina.


SO the Governor came to see me. Two days before he had been made Bishop
of Jesi; [1] and when he entered he said: “Friend Benvenuto, although my
office is wont to frighten men, I come to set your mind at rest, and to
do this I have full authority from his holiness’ own lips, who told me
how he also escaped from Sant’ Angelo, but had many aids and much
company, else he would not have been able to accomplish it. I swear by
the sacraments which I carry on my person (for I was consecrated Bishop
two days since) that the Pope has set you free and pardoned you, and is
very sorry for your accident. Attend to your health, and take all things
for the best; for your imprisonment, which you certainly underwent
without a shadow of guilt, will have been for your perpetual welfare.
Henceforward you will tread down poverty, and will have to go back to
France, wearing out your life in this place and in that. Tell me then
frankly how the matter went, and who rendered you assistance; afterwards
take comfort, repose, and recover.” I began at the beginning, and
related the whole story exactly as it had happened, giving him the most
minute countersigns, down to the water-carrier who bore me on his back.
When the Governor had heard the whole, he said: “Of a surety these are
too great exploits for one man alone; no one but you could have
performed them.” So he made me reach my hand forth, and said: “Be of
good courage and comfort your heart, for by this hand which I am holding
you are free, and if you live, shall live in happiness.” While thus
conversing with me, he had kept a whole heap of great lords and noblemen
waiting, who were come to visit me, saying one to the other: “Let us go
to see this man who works miracles.” So, when he departed, they stayed
by me, and one made me offers of kindness, and another made me presents.

While I was being entertained in this way, the Governor returned to the
Pope, and reported all that I had said. As chance would have it, Signor
Pier Luigi, the Pope’s son, happened to be present, and all the company
gave signs of great astonishment. His Holiness remarked: “Of a truth
this is a marvellous exploit.” Then Pier Luigi began to speak as
follows: “Most blessed Father, if you set that man free, he will do
something still more marvellous, because he has by far too bold a
spirit. I will tell you another story about him which you do not know.
That Benvenuto of yours, before he was imprisoned, came to words with a
gentleman of Cardinal Santa Fiore, [2] about some trifle which the
latter had said to him. Now Benvenuto’s retort was so swaggeringly
insolent that it amounted to throwing down a cartel. The gentleman
referred the matter to the Cardinal, who said that if he once laid hands
on Benvenuto he would soon clear his head of such folly. When the fellow
heard this, he got a little fowling-piece of his ready, with which he is
accustomed to hit a penny in the middle; accordingly, one day when the
Cardinal was looking out of a window, Benvenuto’s shop being under the
palace of the Cardinal, he took his gun and pointed it upon the
Cardinal. The Cardinal, however, had been warned, and presently
withdrew. Benvenuto, in order that his intention might escape notice,
aimed at a pigeon which was brooding high up in a hole of the palace,
and hit it exactly in the head-a feat one would have thought incredible.
Now let your Holiness do what you think best about him; I have
discharged my duty by saying what I have. It might even come into his
head, imagining that he had been wrongly imprisoned, to fire upon your
Holiness. Indeed he is too truculent, by far too confident in his own
powers. When he killed Pompeo, he gave him two stabs with a poniard in
the throat, in the midst of ten men who were guarding him; then he
escaped, to their great shame, and yet they were no inconsiderable

Note 1. Cellini confuses Jesi with Forlimpopoli. See above, p. 203, note.

Note 2. Ascanio Sforza, son of Bosio, Count of Santa Fiore, and grandson
of Paul III. He got the hat in 1534, at the age of sixteen.


WHILE these words were being spoken, the gentleman of Santa Fiore with
whom I had that quarrel was present, and confirmed to the Pope what had
been spoken by his son. The Pope swelled with rage, but said nothing. I
shall now proceed to give my own version of the affair, truly and

This gentleman came to me one day, and showed me a little gold ring
which had been discoloured by quicksilver, saying at the same time:
“Polish up this ring for me, and be quick about it.” I was engaged at
the moment upon jewel-work of gold and gems of great importance:
besides, I did not care to be ordered about so haughtily by a man I had
never seen or spoken to; so I replied that I did not happen to have by
me the proper tool for cleaning up his ring, [1] and that he had better
go to another goldsmith. Without further provocation he retorted that I
was a donkey; whereupon I said that he was not speaking the truth; that
I was a better man than he in every respect, but that if he kept on
irritating me I would give him harder kicks than any donkey could. He
related the matter to the Cardinal, and painted me as black as the devil
in hell. Two days afterwards I shot a wild pigeon in a cleft high up
behind the palace. The bird was brooding in that cleft, and I had often
seen a goldsmith named Giovan Francesco della Tacca, from Milan, fire at
it; but he never hit it. On the day when I shot it, the pigeon scarcely
showed its head, being suspicious because it had been so often fired at.
Now this Giovan Francesco and I were rivals in shooting wildfowl; and
some gentlemen of my acquaintance, who happened to be at my shop, called
my attention, saying: “Up there is Giovan Francesco della Tacca’s
pigeon, at which he has so often fired; look now, the poor creature is
so frightened that it hardly ventures to put its head out.” I raised my
eyes, and said: “That morsel of its head is quite enough for me to shoot
it by, if it only stays till I can point my gun.” The gentlemen
protested that even the man who invented firearms could not hit it. I
replied: “I bet a bottle of that excellent Greek wine Palombo the host
keeps, that if it keeps quiet long enough for me to point my good
Broccardo (so I used to call my gun), I will hit it in that portion of
its head which it is showing.” So I aimed my gun, elevating my arms, and
using no other rest, and did what I had promised, without thinking of
the Cardinal or any other person; on the contrary, I held the Cardinal
for my very good patron. Let the world, then, take notice, when Fortune
has the will to ruin a man, how many divers ways she takes! The Pope,
swelling with rage and grumbling, remained revolving what his son had
told him.

Note 1. Cellini calls it 'isvivatoio.' It is properly 'avvivatoio,' a
sort of brass rod with a wooden handle.


TWO days afterwards the Cardinal Cornaro went to beg a bishopric from
the Pope for a gentleman of his called Messer Andrea Centano. The Pope,
in truth, had promised him a bishopric; and this being now vacant, the
Cardinal reminded him of his word. The Pope acknowledged his obligation,
but said that he too wanted a favour from his most reverend lordship,
which was that he would give up Benvenuto to him. On this the Cardinal
replied: “Oh, if your Holiness has pardoned him and set him free at my
disposal, what will the world say of you and me?” The Pope answered: “I
want Benvenuto, you want the bishopric; let the world say what it
chooses.” The good Cardinal entreated his Holiness to give him the
bishopric, and for the rest to think the matter over, and then to act
according as his Holiness decided. The Pope, feeling a certain amount of
shame at so wickedly breaking his word, took what seemed a middle
course: “I will send for Benvenuto, and in order to gratify the whim I
have, will put him in those rooms which open on my private garden; there
he can attend to his recovery, and I will not prevent any of his friends
from coming to visit him. Moreover, I will defray his expenses until his
caprice of mine has left me.”

The Cardinal came home, and sent the candidate for this bishopric on the
spot to inform me that the Pope was resolved to have me back, but that
he meant to keep me in a ground-floor room in his private garden, where
I could receive the visits of my friends, as I had done in his own
house. I implored this Messer Andrea to ask the Cardinal not to give me
up to the Pope, but to let me act on my own account. I would have myself
wrapped up in a mattress, and carried to a safe place outside Rome; for
if he gave me up to the Pope, he would certainly be sending me to death.
It is believed that when the Cardinal heard my petition he was not
ill-disposed to grant it; but Messer Andrea, wanting to secure the
bishopric, denounced me to the Pope, who sent at once and had me lodged
in the ground-floor chamber of his private garden. The Cardinal sent me
word not to eat the food provided for me by the Pope; he would supply me
with provisions; meanwhile I was to keep my spirits up, for he would
work in my cause till I was set free. Matters being thus arranged, I
received daily visits and generous offers from many great lords and
gentlemen. Food came from the Pope, which I refused to touch, only
eating that which came from Cardinal Cornaro; and thus I remained awhile.

I had among my friends a young Greek of the age of twenty-five years. He
was extremely active in all physical exercises, and the best swordsman
in Rome; rather poor-spirited, however, but loyal to the backbone;
honest, and ready to believe what people told him. He had heard it said
that the Pope made known his intention of compensating me for all I had
gone through. It is true that the Pope began by saying so, but he ended
by saying quite the opposite. I then determined to confide in the young
Greek, and said to him: “Dearest brother, they are plotting my ruin; so
now the time has come to help me. Do they imagine, when they heap those
extraordinary favours on me, that I am not aware they are done to betray
me?” The worthy young man answered: “My Benvenuto, they say in Rome that
the Pope has bestowed on you an office with an income of five hundred
crowns; I beseech you therefore not to let those suspicions deprive you
of so great a windfall.” All the same I begged him with clasped hands to
aid me in escaping from that place, saying I knew well that a Pope of
that sort, though he could do me much good if he chose, was really
studying secretly, and to save appearances, how he might best destroy
me; therefore we must be quick and try to save me from his clutches. If
my friend would get me out of that place by the means I meant to tell
him, I should always regard him as the saviour of my life, and when
occasion came would lay it down for him with gladness. The poor young
man shed tears, and cried: “Oh, my dear brother, though you are bringing
destruction on your head, I cannot but fulfil your wishes; so explain
your plan, and I will do whatever you may order, albeit much against my
will.” Accordingly we came to an agreement, and I disclosed to him the
details of my scheme, which was certain to have succeeded without
difficulty. When I hoped that he was coming to execute it, he came and
told me that for my own good he meant to disobey me, being convinced of
the truth of what he had heard from men close to the Pope’s person, who
understood the real state of my affairs. Having nothing else to rely
upon, I remained in despair and misery. This passed on the day of Corpus
Domini 1539.


AFTER my conversation with the Greek, the whole day wore away, and at
night there came abundant provisions from the kitchen of the Pope; the
Cardinal Cornaro also sent good store of viands from his kitchen; and
some friends of mine being present when they arrived, I made them stay
to supper, and enjoyed their society, keeping my leg in splints beneath
the bed-clothes. An hour after nightfall they left me; and two of my
servants, having made me comfortable for the night, went to sleep in the
antechamber. I had a dog, black as a mulberry, one of those hairy ones,
who followed me admirably when I went out shooting, and never left my
side. During the night he lay beneath my bed, and I had to call out at
least three times to my servant to turn him out, because he howled so
fearfully. When the servants entered, the dog flew at them and tried to
bite them. They were frightened, and thought he must be mad, because he
went on howling. In this way we passed the first four hours of the
night. At the stroke of four the Bargello came into my room with a band
of constables. Then the dog sprang forth and flew at them with such
fury, tearing their capes and hose, that in their fright they fancied he
was mad. But the Bargello, like an experienced person, told them: “It is
the nature of good dogs to divine and foretell the mischance coming on
their masters. Two of you take sticks and beat the dog off; while the
others strap Benvenuto on this chair; then carry him to the place you
wot of.” It was, as I have said, the night after Corpus Domini, and
about four o’clock.

The officers carried me, well shut up and covered, and four of them went
in front, making the few passengers who were still abroad get out of the
way. So they bore me to Torre di Nona, such is the name of the place,
and put me in the condemned cell. I was left upon a wretched mattress
under the care of a guard, who kept all night mourning over my bad luck,
and saying to me: “Alas! poor Benvenuto, what have you done to those
great folk?” I could now form a very good opinion of what was going to
happen to me, partly by the place in which I found myself, and also by
what the man had told me. [1] During a portion of that night I kept
racking my brains what the cause could be why God thought fit to try me
so, and not being able to discover it, I was violently agitated in my
soul. The guard did the best he could to comfort me; but I begged him
for the love of God to stop talking, seeing I should be better able to
compose myself alone in quiet. He promised to do as I asked; and then I
turned my whole heart to God, devoutly entreating Him to deign to take
me into His kingdom. I had, it is true, murmured against my lot, because
it seemed to me that, so far as human laws go, my departure from the
world in this way would be too unjust; it is true also that I had
committed homicides, but His Vicar had called me from my native city and
pardoned me by the authority he had from Him and from the laws; and what
I had done had all been done in defence of the body which His Majesty
had lent me; so I could not admit that I deserved death according to the
dispensation under which man dwells here; but it seemed that what was
happening to me was the same as what happens to unlucky people in the
street, when a stone falls from some great height upon their head and
kills them; this we see clearly to be the influence of the stars; not
indeed that the stars conspire to do us good or evil, but the effect
results from their conjunctions, to which we are subordinated. At the
same time I know that I am possessed of free-will, and if I could exert
the faith of a saint, I am sure that the angels of heaven would bear me
from this dungeon and relieve me of all my afflictions, yet inasmuch as
God has not deemed me worthy of such miracles, I conclude that those
celestial influences must be wreaking their malignity upon me. In this
long struggle of the soul I spent some time; then I found comfort, and
fell presently asleep.

Note 1. Cellini thought he was going to have his throat cut. And indeed
the Torre di Nona was a suspicious place, it being one of the worst
criminal prisons in Rome.


WHEN the day dawned, the guard woke me up and said: “Oh, unfortunate but
worthy man, you have no more time to go on sleeping, for one is waiting
here to give you evil news.” I answered: “The sooner I escape from this
earthly prison, the happier shall I be; especially as I am sure my soul
is saved, and that I am going to an undeserved death. Christ, the
glorious and divine, elects me to the company of His disciples and
friends, who, like Himself, were condemned to die unjustly. I too am
sentenced to an unjust death, and I thank God with humility for this
sign of grace. Why does not the man come forward who has to pronounce my
doom?” The guard replied: “He is too grieved for you, and sheds tears.”
Then I called him by his name of Messer Benedetto da Cagli, [1] and
cried: “Come forward, Messer Benedetto, my friend, for now, I am
resolved and in good frame of mind; far greater glory is it for me to
die unjustly than if I had deserved this fate. Come forward, I beg, and
let me have a priest, in order that I may speak a couple of words with
him. I do not indeed stand in need of this, for I have already made my
heart’s confession to my Lord God; yet I should like to observe the
ordinances of our Holy Mother Church; for though she has done me this
abominable wrong, I pardon her with all my soul. So come, friend Messer
Benedetto, and despatch my business before I lose control over my better

After I had uttered these words, the worthy man told the guard to lock
the door, because nothing could be done without his presence. He then
repaired to the house of Signor Pier Luigi’s wife, who happened to be in
company with the Duchess of whom I spoke above. [2] Presenting himself
before them both, he spoke as follows: “My most illustrious mistress, I
entreat you for the love of God to tell the Pope, that he must send some
one else to pronounce sentence upon Benvenuto and perform my office; I
renounce the task, and am quite decided not to carry it through.” Then,
sighing, he departed with the strongest signs of inward sorrow. The
Duchess, who was present, frowned and said: “So this is the fine justice
dealt out here in Rome by God’s Vicar! The Duke, my late husband,
particularly esteemed this man for his good qualities and eminent
abilities; he was unwilling to let him return to Rome, and would gladly
have kept him close to his own person.” Upon this she retired, muttering
words of indignation and displeasure. Signor Pier Luigi’s wife, who was
called Signora Jerolima, betook herself to the Pope, and threw herself
upon her knees before him in the presence of several cardinals. She
pleaded my cause so warmly that she woke the Pope to shame; whereupon he
said: “For your sake we will leave him quiet; yet you must know that we
had no ill-will against him.” These words he spoke because of the
cardinals who were around him, and had listened to the eloquence of that
brave-spirited lady.

Meanwhile I abode in extreme discomfort, and my heart kept thumping
against my ribs. Not less was the discomfort of the men appointed to
discharge the evil business of my execution; but when the hour for
dinner was already past, they betook themselves to their several
affairs, and my meal was also served me. This filled me with a glad
astonishment, and I exclaimed: “For once truth has been stronger than
the malice of the stars! I pray God, therefore, that, if it be His
pleasure, He will save me from this fearful peril. Then I fell to eating
with the same stout heart for my salvation as I had previously prepared
for my perdition. I dined well, and afterwards remained without seeing
or hearing any one until an hour after nightfall. At that time the
Bargello arrived with a large part of his guard, and had me replaced in
the chair which brought me on the previous evening to the prison. He
spoke very kindly to me, bidding me be under no apprehension; and bade
his constables take good care not to strike against my broken leg, but
to treat me as though I were the apple of their eye. The men obeyed, and
brought me to the castle whence I had escaped; then, when we had mounted
to the keep, they left me shut up in a dungeon opening upon a little
court there is there.

Note 1. It will be remembered that Benedetto da Cagli was one of
Cellini’s three examiners during his first imprisonment in S. Angelo.

Note 2. The wife of Pier Luigi Farnese was Jeronima, daughter of Luigi
Orsini, Count of Pitigliano.


THE CASTELLAN, meanwhile, ill and afflicted as he was, had himself
transported to my prison, and exclaimed: “You see that I have recaptured
you!” “Yes,” said I, “but you see that I escaped, as I told you I would.
And if I had not been sold by a Venetian Cardinal, under Papal
guarantee, for the price of a bishopric, the Pope a Roman and a Farnese
(and both of them have scratched with impious hands the face of the most
sacred laws), you would not have recovered me. But now that they have
opened this vile way of dealing, do you the worst you can in your turn;
I care for nothing in the world.” The wretched man began shouting at the
top of his voice: “Ah, woe is me! woe is me! It is all the same to this
fellow whether he lives or dies, and behold, he is more fiery than when
he was in health. Put him down there below the garden, and do not speak
to me of him again, for he is the destined cause of my death.”

So I was taken into a gloomy dungeon below the level of a garden, which
swam with water, and was full of big spiders and many venomous worms.
They flung me a wretched mattress of course hemp, gave me no supper, and
locked four doors upon me. In that condition I abode until the
nineteenth hour of the following day. Then I received food, and I
requested my jailers to give me some of my books to read. None of them
spoke a word, but they referred my prayer to the unfortunate castellan,
who had made inquiries concerning what I said. Next morning they brought
me an Italian Bible which belonged to me, and a copy of the Chronicles
of Giovanni Villani. [1] When I asked for certain other of my books, I
was told that I could have no more, and that I had got too many already.

Thus, then, I continued to exist in misery upon that rotten mattress,
which in three days soaked up water like a sponge. I could hardly stir
because of my broken leg; and when I had to get out of bed to obey a
call of nature, I crawled on all fours with extreme distress, in order
not to foul the place I slept in. For one hour and a half each day I got
a little glimmering of light, which penetrated that unhappy cavern
through a very narrow aperture. Only for so short a space of time could
I read; the rest of the day and night I abode in darkness, enduring my
lot, nor ever without meditations upon God and on our human frailty. I
thought it certain that a few more days would put an end of my unlucky
life in that sad place and in that miserable manner. Nevertheless, as
well as I was able, I comforted my soul by calling to mind how much more
painful it would have been, on passing from this life, to have suffered
that unimaginable horror of the hangman’s knife. Now, being as I was, I
should depart with the anodyne of sleepiness, which robbed death of half
its former terrors. Little by little I felt my vital forces waning,
until at last my vigorous temperament had become adapted to that
purgatory. When I felt it quite acclimatised, I resolved to put up with
all those indescribable discomforts so long as it held out.

Note 1. This mention of an Italian Bible shows that we are still in the
days before the Council of Trent.


I BEGAN the Bible from the commencement, reading and reflecting on it so
devoutly, and finding in it such deep treasures of delight, that, if I
had been able, I should have done naught else but study it. However,
light was wanting; and the thought of all my troubles kept recurring and
gnawing at me in the darkness, until I often made my mind up to put an
end somehow to my own life. They did not allow me a knife, however, and
so it was no easy matter to commit suicide. Once, notwithstanding, I
took and propped a wooden pole I found there, in position like a trap. I
meant to make it topple over on my head, and it would certainly have
dashed my brains out; but when I had arranged the whole machine, and was
approaching to put it in motion, just at the moment of my setting my
hand to it, I was seized by an invisible power and flung four cubits
from the spot, in such a terror that I lay half dead. Like that I
remained from dawn until the nineteenth hour, when they brought my food.
The jailers must have visited my cell several times without my taking
notice of them; for when at last I heard them, Captain Sandrino Monaldi
[1] had entered, and I heard him saying: “Ah, unhappy man! behold the
end to which so rare a genius has come!” Roused by these words, I opened
my eyes, and caught sight of priests with long gowns on their backs, who
were saying: “Oh, you told us he was dead!” Bozza replied: “Dead I found
him, and therefore I told you so.” Then they lifted me from where I lay,
and after shaking up the mattress, which was now as soppy as a dish of
maccaroni, they flung it outside the dungeon. The castellan, when these
things were reported to him, sent me another mattress. Thereafter, when
I searched my memory to find what could have diverted me from that
design of suicide, I came to the conclusion that it must have been some
power divine and my good guardian angel.

Note 1. A Florentine, banished in 1530 for having been in arms against
the Medici.


DURING the following night there appeared to me in dreams a marvellous
being in the form of a most lovely youth, who cried, as though he wanted
to reprove me: “Knowest thou who lent thee that body, which thou wouldst
have spoiled before its time?” I seemed to answer that I recognized all
things pertaining to me as gifts from the God of nature. “So, then,” he
said, “thou hast contempt for His handiwork, through this thy will to
spoil it? Commit thyself unto His guidance, and lose not hope in His
great goodness!” Much more he added, in words of marvellous efficacy,
the thousandth part of which I cannot now remember.

I began to consider that the angel of my vision spoke the truth. So I
cast my eyes around the prison, and saw some scraps of rotten brick,
with the fragments of which, rubbing one against the other, I composed a
paste. Then, creeping on all fours, as I was compelled to go, I crawled
up to an angle of my dungeon door, and gnawed a splinter from it with my
teeth. Having achieved this feat, I waited till the light came on my
prison; that was from the hour of twenty and a half to twenty-one and a
half. When it arrived, I began to write, the best I could, on some blank
pages in my Bible, and rebuked the regents of my intellectual self for
being too impatient to endure this life; they replied to my body with
excuses drawn from all that they had suffered; and the body gave them
hope of better fortune. To this effect, then, by way of dialogue, I
wrote as follows:-

'Benvenuto in the body.

'Afflicted regents of my soul!
Ah, cruel ye! have ye such hate of life?

'The Spirits of his soul.

'If Heaven against you roll,
Who stands for us? who saves us in the strife?
Let us, O let us go toward better life!


'Nay, go not yet awhile!
Ye shall be happier and lighter far-
Heaven gives this hope-than ye were ever yet!

'The Spirits.

'We will remain some little while,
If only by great God you promised are
Such grace that no worse woes on us be set.

After this I recovered strength; and when I had heartened up myself, I
continued reading in the Bible, and my eyes became so used to that
darkness that I could now read for three hours instead of the bare hour
and a half I was able to employ before.

With profound astonishment I dwelt upon the force of God’s Spirit in
those men of great simplicity, who believed so fervently that He would
bring all their heart’s desire to pass. I then proceeded to reckon in my
own case too on God’s assistance, both because of His divine power and
mercy, and also because of my own innocence; and at all hours, sometimes
in prayer and sometimes in communion with God, I abode in those high
thoughts of Him. There flowed into my soul so powerful a delight from
these reflections upon God, that I took no further thought for all the
anguish I had suffered, but rather spent the day in singing psalms and
divers other compositions on the theme of His divinity.

I was greatly troubled, however, by one particular annoyance: my nails
had grown so long that I could not touch my body without wounding it; I
could not dress myself but what they turned inside or out, to my great
torment. Moreover, my teeth began to perish in my mouth. I became aware
of this because the dead teeth being pushed out by the living ones, my
gums were gradually perforated, and the points of the roots pierced
through the tops of their cases. When I was aware of this, I used to
pull one out, as though it were a weapon from a scabbard, without any
pain or loss of blood. Very many of them did I lose in this way.
Nevertheless, I accommodated myself to these new troubles also; at times
I sang, at times I prayed, and at times I wrote by means of the paste of
brick-dust I have described above. At this time I began composing a
Capitolo in praise of my prison, relating in it all the accidents which
had befallen me. [1] This poem I mean to insert in its proper place.

Note 1. Capitolo is the technical name for a copy of verses in 'terza
rima' on a chosen theme. Poems of this kind, mostly burlesque or
satirical, were very popular in Cellini’s age. They used to be written
on trifling or obscene subjects in a mock-heroic style. Berni stamped
the character of high art upon the species, which had long been in use
among the unlettered vulgar. See for further particulars Symonds’
'Renaissance in Italy,' vol. v. chap. xiv.


THE GOOD castellan used frequently to send messengers to find out
secretly what I was doing. So it happened on the last day of July that I
was rejoicing greatly by myself alone while I bethought me of the
festival they keep in Rome upon the 1st of August; and I was saying to
myself: “In former years I kept the feast among the pleasures and the
frailties of the world; this year I shall keep it in communion with God.
Oh, how far more happy am I thus than I was then!” The persons who heard
me speak these words reported them to the castellan. He was greatly
annoyed, and exclaimed: “Ah, God! that fellow lives and triumphs in his
infinite distress, while I lack all things in the midst of comfort, and
am dying only on account of him! Go quickly, and fling him into that
deepest of the subterranean dungeons where the preacher Foiano was
starved to death. [1] Perhaps when he finds himself in such ill plight
he will begin to droop his crest.”

Captain Sandrino Monaldi came at once into my prison with about twenty
of the castellan’s servants. They found me on my knees; and I did not
turn at their approach, but went on paying my orisons before a God the
Father, surrounded with angels, and a Christ arising victorious from the
grave, which I had sketched upon the wall with a little piece of
charcoal I had found covered up with earth. This was after I had lain
four months upon my back in bed with my leg broken, and had so often
dreamed that angels came and ministered to me, that at the end of those
four months the limb became as sound as though it never had been
fractured. So then these fellows entered, all in armour, as fearful of
me as though I were a poison-breathing dragon. The captain spoke as
follows: “You must be aware that there are many of us here, and our
entrance has made a tumult in this place, yet you do not turn round.”
When I heard these words, I was well able to conceive what greater harm
might happen to me, but being used and hardened to misfortune, I said to
them: “Unto this God who supports me, to Him in heaven I have turned my
soul, my contemplation, and all my vital spirits; to you I have turned
precisely what belongs to you. What there is of good in me, you are not
worthy to behold, nor can you touch it. Do then to that which is under
your control all the evil you are able.” The captain, in some alarm, and
not knowing what I might be on the point of doing, said to four of his
tallest fellows: “Put all your arms aside.” When they had done so, he
added: “Now upon the instant leap on him, and secure him well. Do you
think he is the devil, that so many of us should be afraid of him? Hold
him tight now, that he may not escape you.” Seized by them with force
and roughly handled, and anticipating something far worse than what
afterwards happened, I lifted my eyes to Christ and said: “Oh, just God,
Thou paidest all our debts upon that high-raised cross of Thine;
wherefore then must my innocence be made to pay the debts of whom I do
not even know? Nevertheless, Thy will be done.” Meanwhile the men were
carrying me away with a great lighted torch; and I thought that they
were about to throw me down the oubliette of Sammabo. This was the name
given to a fearful place which had swallowed many men alive; for when
they are cast into it, the fall to the bottom of a deep pit in the
foundation of the castle. This did not, however, happen to me; wherefore
I thought that I had made a very good bargain when they placed me in
that hideous dungeon I have spoken of, where Fra Foiano died of hunger,
and left me there without doing me further injury.

When I was alone, I began to sing a 'De profundis clamavi,' a
'Miserere,' and 'In te Domine speravi.' During the whole of that first
day of August I kept festival with God, my heart rejoicing ever in the
strength of hope and faith. On the second day they drew me from that
hole, and took me back again to the prison where I had drawn those
representations of God. On arriving there, the sight of them filled me
with such sweetness and such gladness that I wept abundantly. On every
day that followed, the castellan sent to know what I was doing and
saying. The Pope, who had heard the whole history (and I must add that
the doctors had already given the castellan over), spoke as follows:
“Before my castellan dies I will let him put that Benvenuto to death in
any way he likes, for he is the cause of his death, and so the good man
shall not die unrevenged.” On hearing these words from the mouth of Duke
Pier Luigi, the castellan replied: “So, then, the Pope has given me
Benvenuto, and wishes me to take my vengeance on him? Dismiss the matter
from your mind, and leave me to act.” If the heart of the Pope was
ill-disposed against me, that of the castellan was now at the
commencement savage and cruel in the extreme. At this juncture the
invisible being who had diverted me from my intention of suicide, came
to me, being still invisible, but with a clear voice, and shook me, and
made me rise, and said to me: “Ah me! my Benvenuto, quick, quick, betake
thyself to God with thy accustomed prayers, and cry out loudly, loudly!”
In a sudden consternation I fell upon my knees, and recited several of
my prayers in a loud voice; after this I said 'Qui habitat in
adjutorio;' then I communed a space with God; and in an instant the same
clear and open voice said to me: “Go to rest, and have no further fear!”
The meaning of this was, that the castellan, after giving the most cruel
orders for my death, suddenly countermanded them, and said: “Is not this
Benvenuto the man whom I have so warmly defended, whom I know of a
surety to be innocent, and who has been so greatly wronged? Oh, how will
God have mercy on me and my sins if I do not pardon those who have done
me the greatest injuries? Oh, why should I injure a man both worthy and
innocent, who has only done me services and honour? Go to! instead of
killing him, I give him life and liberty: and in my will I’ll have it
written that none shall demand of him the heavy debt for his expenses
here which he would elsewise have to pay.” This the Pope heard, and took
it very ill indeed.

Note 1. Fra Benedetto da Foiano had incurred the wrath of Pope Clement
VII. by preaching against the Medici in Florence. He was sent to Rome
and imprisoned in a noisome dungeon of S. Angelo in the year 1530, where
Clement made him perish miserably by diminishing his food and water
daily till he died. See Varchi’s 'Storia Fiorentina,' lib. xii. chap. 4.


I MEANWHILE continued to pray as usual, and to write my Capitolo, and
every night I was visited with the gladdest and most pleasant dreams
that could be possibly imagined. It seemed to me while dreaming that I
was always in the visible company of that being whose voice and touch,
while he was still invisible, I had so often felt. To him I made but one
request, and this I urged most earnestly, namely, that he would bring me
where I could behold the sun. I told him that this was the sole desire I
had, and that if I could but see the sun once only, I should die
contented. All the disagreeable circumstances of my prison had become,
as it were, to me friendly and companionable; not one of them gave me
annoyance. Nevertheless, I ought to say that the castellan’s parasites,
who were waiting for him to hang me from the battlement whence I had
made my escape, when they saw that he had changed his mind to the exact
opposite of what he previously threatened, were unable to endure the
disappointment. Accordingly, they kept continually trying to inspire me
with the fear of imminent death by means of various terrifying hints.
But, as I have already said, I had become so well acquainted with
troubles of this sort that I was incapable of fear, and nothing any
longer could disturb me; only I had that one great longing to behold the
sphere of the sun, if only in a dream.

Thus then, while I spent many hours a day in prayer with deep emotion of
the spirit toward Christ, I used always to say: “Ah, very Son of God! I
pray Thee by Thy birth, by Thy death upon the cross, and by Thy glorious
resurrection, that Thou wilt deign to let me see the sun, if not
otherwise, at least in dreams. But if Thou wilt grant me to behold it
with these mortal eyes of mine, I engage myself to come and visit Thee
at Thy holy sepulchre.” This vow and these my greatest prayers to God I
made upon the 2nd of October in the year 1539. Upon the following
morning, which was the 3rd of October, I woke at daybreak, perhaps an
hour before the rising of the sun. Dragging myself from the miserable
lair in which I lay, I put some clothes on, for it had begun to be cold;
then I prayed more devoutly than ever I had done in the past, fervently
imploring Christ that He would at least grant me the favour of knowing
by divine inspiration what sin I was so sorely expiating; and since His
Divine Majesty had not deemed me worthy of beholding the sun even in a
dream I besought Him to let me know the cause of my punishment.


I HAD barely uttered these words, when that invisible being, like a
whirlwind, caught me up and bore me away into a large room, where he
made himself visible to my eyes in human form, appearing like a young
man whose beard is just growing, with a face of indescribable beauty,
but austere, not wanton. He bade me look around the room, and said: “The
crowd of men thou seest in this place are all those who up to this day
have been born and afterwards have died upon the earth.” Thereupon I
asked him why he brought me hither, and he answered: “Come with me and
thou shalt soon behold.” In my hand I had a poniard, and upon my back a
coat of mail; and so he led me through that vast hall, pointing out the
people who were walking by innumerable thousands up and down, this way
and that. He led me onward, and went forth in front of me through a
little low door into a place which looked like a narrow street; and when
he drew me after him into the street, at the moment of leaving the hall,
behold I was disarmed and clothed in a white shirt, with nothing on my
head, and I was walking on the right hand of my companion. Finding
myself in this condition, I was seized with wonder, because I did not
recognise the street; and when I lifted my eyes, I discerned that the
splendour of the sun was striking on a wall, as it were a house-front,
just above my head. Then I said: “Oh, my friend! what must I do in order
to be able to ascend so high that I may gaze upon the sphere of the sun
himself?” He pointed out some huge stairs which were on my right hand,
and said to me: “Go up thither by thyself.” Quitting his side, I
ascended the stairs backwards, and gradually began to come within the
region of the sunlight. Then I hastened my steps, and went on, always
walking backwards as I have described, until I discovered the whole
sphere of the sun. The strength of his rays, as is their wont, first
made me close my eyes; but becoming aware of my misdoing, I opened them
wide, and gazing steadfastly at the sun, exclaimed: “Oh, my sun, for
whom I have passionately yearned! Albeit your rays may blind me, I do
not wish to look on anything again but this!” So I stayed awhile with my
eyes fixed steadily on him; and after a brief space I beheld in one
moment the whole might of those great burning rays fling themselves upon
the left side of the sun; so that the orb remained quite clear without
its rays, and I was able to contemplate it with vast delight. It seemed
to me something marvellous that the rays should be removed in that
manner. Then I reflected what divine grace it was which God had granted
me that morning, and cried aloud: “Oh, wonderful Thy power! oh, glorious
Thy virtue! How far greater is the grace which Thou art granting me than
that which I expected!” The sun without his rays appeared to me to be a
bath of the purest molten gold, neither more nor less. While I stood
contemplating this wondrous thing, I noticed that the middle of the
sphere began to swell, and the swollen surface grew, and suddenly a
Christ upon the cross formed itself out of the same substance as the
sun. He bore the aspect of divine benignity, with such fair grace that
the mind of man could not conceive the thousandth part of it; and while
I gazed in ecstasy, I shouted: “A miracle! a miracle! O God! O clemency
Divine! O immeasurable Goodness! what is it Thou hast deigned this day
to show me!” While I was gazing and exclaiming thus, the Christ moved
toward that part where his rays were settled, and the middle of the sun
once more bulged out as it had done before; the boss expanded, and
suddenly transformed itself into the shape of a most beautiful Madonna,
who appeared to be sitting enthroned on high, holding her child in her
arms with an attitude of the greatest charm and a smile upon her face.
On each side of her was an angel, whose beauty far surpasses man’s
imagination. I also saw within the rondure of the sun, upon the right
hand, a figure robed like a priest; this turned its back to me, and kept
its face directed to the Madonna and the Christ. All these things I
beheld, actual, clear, and vivid, and kept returning thanks to the glory
of God as loud as I was able. The marvellous apparition remained before
me little more than half a quarter of an hour: then it dissolved, and I
was carried back to my dark lair.

I began at once to shout aloud: “The virtue of God hath deigned to show
me all His glory, the which perchance no mortal eye hath ever seen
before. Therefore I know surely that I am free and fortunate and in the
grace of God; but you miscreants shall be miscreants still, accursed,
and in the wrath of God. Mark this, for I am certain of it, that on the
day of All Saints, the day upon which I was born in 1500, on the first
of November, at four hours after nightfall, on that day which is coming
you will be forced to lead me from this gloomy dungeon; less than this
you will not be able to do, because I have seen it with these eyes of
mine and in that throne of God. The priest who kept his face turned to
God and his back to me, that priest was S. Peter, pleading my cause, for
the shame he felt that such foul wrongs should be done to Christians in
his own house. You may go and tell it to whom you like; for none on
earth has the power to do me harm henceforward; and tell that lord who
keeps me here, that if he will give me wax or paper and the means of
portraying this glory of God which was revealed to me, most assuredly
shall I convince him of that which now perhaps he holds in doubt.”


THE PHYSICIANS gave the castellan no hope of his recovery, yet he
remained with a clear intellect, and the humours which used to afflict
him every year had passed away. He devoted himself entirely to the care
of his soul, and his conscience seemed to smite him, because he felt
that I had suffered and was suffering a grievous wrong. The Pope
received information from him of the extraordinary things which I
related; in answer to which his Holiness sent word-as one who had no
faith either in God or aught beside-that I was mad, and that he must do
his best to mend his health. When the castellan received this message,
he sent to cheer me up, and furnished me with writing materials and wax,
and certain little wooden instruments employed in working wax, adding
many words of courtesy, which were reported by one of his servants who
bore me good-will. This man was totally the opposite of that rascally
gang who had wished to see me hanged. I took the paper and the wax, and
began to work; and while I was working I wrote the following sonnet
addressed to the castellan:-

“If I, my lord, could show to you the truth,
Of that Eternal Light to me by Heaven
In this low life revealed, you sure had given
More heed to mine than to a monarch’s sooth.

Ah! could the Pastor of Christ’s flock in ruth
Believe how God this soul with sight hath shriven
Of glory unto which no wight hath striven
Ere he escaped earth’s cave of care uncouth;

The gates of Justice, holy and austere,
Would roll asunder, and rude impious Rage
Fall chained with shrieks that should assail the skies.

Had I but light, ah me! my art should rear
A monument of Heaven’s high equipage!
Nor should my misery bear so grim a guise.”


ON the following day, when the servant of the castellan who was my
friend brought me my food, I gave him this sonnet copied out in writing.
Without informing the other ill-disposed servants who were my enemies,
he handed it to the castellan. At that time this worthy man would gladly
have granted me my liberty, because he fancied that the great wrong done
to me was a main cause of his death. He took the sonnet, and having read
it more than once, exclaimed: “These are neither the words nor the
thoughts of a madman, but rather of a sound and worthy fellow.” Without
delay he ordered his secretary to take it to the Pope, and place it in
his own hands, adding a request for my deliverance.

While the secretary was on his way with my sonnet to the Pope, the
castellan sent me lights for day and night, together with all the
conveniences one could wish for in that place. The result of this was
that I began to recover from my physical depression, which had reached a
very serious degree.

The Pope read the sonnet several times. Then he sent word to the
castellan that he meant presently to do what would be pleasing to him.
Certainly the Pope had no unwillingness to release me then; but Signor
Pier Luigi, his son, as it were in the Pope’s despite, kept me there by

The death of the castellan was drawing near; and while I was engaged in
drawing and modelling that miracle which I had seen, upon the morning of
All Saint’s day he sent his nephew, Piero Ugolini, to show me certain
jewels. No sooner had I set eyes on them than I exclaimed: “This is the
countersign of my deliverance!” Then the young man, who was not a person
of much intelligence, began to say: “Never think of that, Benvenuto!” I
replied: “Take your gems away, for I am so treated here that I have no
light to see by except what this murky cavern gives, and that is not
enough to test the quality of precious stones. But, as regards my
deliverance from this dungeon, the day will not end before you come to
fetch me out. It shall and must be so, and you will not be able to
prevent it.” The man departed, and had me locked in; but after he had
remained away two hours by the clock, he returned without armed men,
bringing only a couple of lads to assist my movements; so after this
fashion he conducted me to the spacious rooms which I had previously
occupied (that is to say, in 1538), where I obtained all the
conveniences I asked for.


AFTER the lapse of a few days, the castellan, who now believed that I
was at large and free, succumbed to his disease and departed this life.
In his room remained his brother, Messer Antonio Ugolini, who had
informed the deceased governor that I was duly released. From what I
learned, this Messer Antonio received commission from the Pope to let me
occupy that commodious prison until he had decided what to do with me.

Messer Durante of Brescia, whom I have previously mentioned, engaged the
soldier (formerly druggist of Prato) to administer some deadly liquor in
my food; [1] the poison was to work slowly, producing its effect at the
end of four or five months. They resolved on mixing pounded diamond with
my victuals. Now the diamond is not a poison in any true sense of the
word, but its incomparable hardness enables it, unlike ordinary stones,
to retain very acute angles. When every other stone is pounded, that
extreme sharpness of edge is lost; their fragments becoming blunt and
rounded. The diamond alone preserves its trenchant qualities; wherefore,
if it chances to enter the stomach together with food, the peristaltic
motion [2] needful to digestion brings it into contact with the coats of
the stomach and the bowels, where it sticks, and by the action of fresh
food forcing it farther inwards, after some time perforates the organs.
This eventually causes death. Any other sort of stone or glass mingled
with the food has not the power to attach itself, but passes onward with
the victuals. Now Messer Durante entrusted a diamond of trifling value
to one of the guards; and it is said that a certain Lione, a goldsmith
of Arezzo, my great enemy, was commissioned to pound it. [3] The man
happened to be very poor, and the diamond was worth perhaps some scores
of crowns. He told the guard that the dust he gave him back was the
diamond in question properly ground down. The morning when I took it,
they mixed it with all I had to eat; it was a Friday, and I had it in
salad, sauce, and pottage. That morning I ate heartily, for I had fasted
on the previous evening; and this day was a festival. It is true that I
felt the victuals scrunch beneath my teeth; but I was not thinking about
knaveries of this sort. When I had finished, some scraps of salad
remained upon my plate, and certain very fine and glittering splinters
caught my eye among these remnants. I collected them, and took them to
the window, which let a flood of light into the room; and while I was
examining them, I remembered that the food I ate that morning had
scrunched more than usual. On applying my senses strictly to the matter,
the verdict of my eyesight was that they were certainly fragments of
pounded diamond. Upon this I gave myself up without doubt as dead, and
in my sorrow had recourse with pious heart to holy prayers. I had
resolved the question, and thought that I was doomed. For the space of a
whole hour I prayed fervently to God, returning thanks to Him for so
merciful a death. Since my stars had sentenced me to die, I thought it
no bad bargain to escape from life so easily. I was resigned, and
blessed the world and all the years which I had passed in it. Now I was
returning to a better kingdom with the grace of God, the which I thought
I had most certainly acquired.

While I stood revolving these thoughts in my mind, I held in my hand
some flimsy particles of the reputed diamond, which of a truth I firmly
believed to be such. Now hope is immortal in the human breast; therefore
I felt myself, as it were, lured onward by a gleam of idle expectation.
Accordingly, I took up a little knife and a few of those particles, and
placed them on an iron bar of my prison. Then I brought the knife’s
point with a slow strong grinding pressure to bear upon the stone, and
felt it crumble. Examining the substance with my eyes, I saw that it was
so. In a moment new hope took possession of my soul, and I exclaimed:
“Here I do not find my true foe, Messer Durante, but a piece of bad soft
stone, which cannot do me any harm whatever!” Previously I had been
resolved to remain quiet and to die in peace; now I revolved other
plans, but first I rendered thanks to God and blessed poverty; for
though poverty is oftentimes the cause of bringing men to death, on this
occasion it had been the very cause of my salvation. I mean in this way:
Messer Durante, my enemy, or whoever it was, gave a diamond to Lione to
pound for me of the worth of more than a hundred crowns; poverty induced
him to keep this for himself, and to pound for me a greenish beryl of
the value of two carlins, thinking perhaps, because it also was a stone,
that it would work the same effect as the diamond.

Note 1. For Messer Durante, see above, p. 180. For the druggist of Prato
employed as a warder in S. Angelo, see above, p. 216.

Note 2. 'In quel girare che e’ fanno e’ cibi.' I have for the sake of
clearness used the technical phrase above.

Note 3. The name of Leone Leoni is otherwise known as a goldsmith and
bronze-caster. He made the tomb for Giangiacomo de’ Medici, Il
Medighino, in the Cathedral of Milan.


AT this time the Bishop of Pavia, brother of the Count of San Secondo,
and commonly called Monsignor de’ Rossi of Parma, happened to be
imprisoned in the castle for some troublesome affairs at Pavia. [1]
Knowing him to be my friend, I thrust my head out of the hole in my
cell, and called him with a loud voice, crying that those thieves had
given me a pounded diamond with the intention of killing me. I also sent
some of the splinters which I had preserved, by the hand of one of his
servants, for him to see. I did not disclose my discovery that the stone
was not a diamond, but told him that they had most assuredly poisoned
me, after the death of that most worthy man the castellan. During the
short space of time I had to live, I begged him to allow me one loaf a
day from his own stores, seeing that I had resolved to eat nothing which
came from them. To this request he answered that he would supply me with

Messer Antonio, who was certainly not cognisant of the plot against my
life, stirred up a great noise, and demanded to see the pounded stone,
being also persuaded that it was a diamond; but on reflection that the
Pope was probably at the bottom of the affair, he passed it over lightly
after giving his attention to the incident.

Henceforth I ate the victuals sent me by the Bishop, and continued
writing my Capitolo on the prison, into which I inserted daily all the
new events which happened to me, point by point. But Messer Antonio also
sent me food; and he did this by the hand of that Giovanni of Prato, the
druggist, then soldier in the castle, whom I have previously mentioned.
He was a deadly foe of mine, and was the man who had administered the
powdered diamond. So I told him that I would partake of nothing he
brought me unless he tasted it before my eyes. [2] The man replied that
Popes have their meat tasted. I answered: “Noblemen are bound to taste
the meat for Popes; in like measure, you, soldier, druggist, peasant
from Prato, are bound to taste the meat for a Florentine of my station.”
He retorted with coarse words, which I was not slow to pay back in kind.

Now Messer Antonio felt a certain shame for his behaviour; he had it
also in his mind to make me pay the costs which the late castellan, poor
man, remitted in my favour. So he hunted out another of his servants,
who was my friend, and sent me food by this man’s hands. The meat was
tasted for me now with good grace, and no need for altercation. The
servant in question told me that the Pope was being pestered every day
by Monsignor di Morluc, who kept asking for my extradition on the part
of the French King. The Pope, however, showed little disposition to give
me up; and Cardinal Farnese, formerly my friend and patron, had declared
that I ought not to reckon on issuing from that prison for some length
of time. [3] I replied that I should get out in spite of them all. The
excellent young fellow besought me to keep quiet, and not to let such
words of mine be heard, for they might do me some grave injury; having
firm confidence in God, it was my duty to await. His mercy, remaining in
the meanwhile tranquil. I answered that the power and goodness of God
are not bound to stand in awe before the malign forces of iniquity.

Note 1. Gio. Girolamo de’ Rossi, known in literature as a poet and
historian of secondary importance.

Note 2. 'Me ne faceva la credenza.'

Note 3. This was the Cardinal Alessandro, son of Pier Luigi Farnese.


A FEW days had passed when the Cardinal of Ferrara arrived in Rome. He
went to pay his respects to the Pope, and the Pope detained him up to
supper-time. Now the Pope was a man of great talent for affairs, and he
wanted to talk at his ease with the Cardinal about French politics.
Everybody knows that folk, when they are feasting together, say things
which they would otherwise retain. This therefore happened. The great
King Francis was most frank and liberal in all his dealings, and the
Cardinal was well acquainted with his temper. Therefore the latter could
indulge the Pope beyond his boldest expectations. This raised his
Holiness to a high pitch of merriment and gladness, all the more because
he was accustomed to drink freely once a week, and went indeed to vomit
after his indulgence. When, therefore, the Cardinal observed that the
Pope was well disposed, and ripe to grant favours, he begged for me at
the King’s demand, pressing the matter hotly, and proving that his
Majesty had it much at heart. Upon this the Pope laughed aloud; he felt
the moment for his vomit at hand; the excessive quantity of wine which
he had drunk was also operating; so he said: “On the spot, this instant,
you shall take him to your house.” Then, having given express orders to
this purpose, he rose from table. The Cardinal immediately sent for me,
before Signor Pier Luigi could get wind of the affair; for it was
certain that he would not have allowed me to be loosed from prison.

The Pope’s mandatary came together with two great gentlemen of the
Cardinal’s, and when four o’clock of the night was passed, they removed
me from my prison, and brought me into the presence of the Cardinal, who
received me with indescribable kindness. I was well lodged, and left to
enjoy the comforts of my situation.

Messer Antonio, the old castellan’s brother, and his successor in the
office, insisted on extracting from me the costs for food and other fees
and perquisites claimed by sheriffs and such fry, paying no heed to his
predecessor’s will in my behalf. This affair cost me several scores of
crowns; but I paid them, because the Cardinal told me to be well upon my
guard if I wanted to preserve my life, adding that had he not extracted
me that evening from the prison, I should never have got out. Indeed, he
had already been informed that the Pope greatly regretted having let me


WHOSO would know the power of God’s dominion,
And how a man resembles that high good,
Must lie in prison, is my firm opinion:

On grievous thoughts and cares of home must brood, '
' Oppressed with carking pains in flesh and bone,
Far from his native land full many a rood.

If you would fain by worthy deeds be known,
Seek to be prisoned without cause, lie long, '
' And find no friend to listen to your moan.

See that men rob you of your all by wrong;
Add perils to your life; be used with force,
Hopeless of help, by brutal foes and strong. '

'Be driven at length to some mad desperate course;
Burst from your dungeon, leap the castle wall;
Recaptured, find the prison ten times worse.
'Now listen, Luca, to the best of all!
Your leg’s been broken; you’ve been bought and sold;
Your dungeon’s dripping; you’ve no cloak or shawl.

Never one friendly word; your victuals cold '
' Are brought with sorry news by some base groom
Of Prato-soldier now-druggist of old.

Mark well how Glory steeps her sons in gloom!
You have no seat to sit on, save the stool: '
' Yet were you active from your mother’s womb.

The knave who serves hath orders strict and cool
To list no word you utter, give you naught,
Scarcely to ope the door; such is their rule. '

'These toys hath Glory for her nursling wrought!
No paper, pens, ink, fire, or tools of steel,
To exercise the quick brain’s teeming thought.
'Alack that I so little can reveal!
Fancy one hundred for each separate ill:
Full space and place I’ve left for prison weal!

But now my former purpose to fulfil, '
' And sing the dungeon’s praise with honour due-
For this angelic tongues were scant of skill.

Here never languish honest men and true,
Except by placemen’s fraud, misgovernment, '
' Jealousies, anger, or some spiteful crew.

To tell the truth whereon my mind is bent,
Here man knows God, nor ever stints to pray,
Feeling his soul with hell’s fierce anguish rent. '

'Let one be famed as bad as mortal may,
Send him in jail two sorry years to pine,
He’ll come forth holy, wise, beloved alway.'

'Here soul, flesh, clothes their substance gross refine;
Each bulky lout grows light like gossamere;
Celestial thrones before purged eyeballs shine.

I’ll tell thee a great marvel! Friend, give ear! '
' The fancy took me on one day to write:
Learn now what shifts one may be put to here.

My cell I search, prick brows and hair upright,
Then turn me toward a cranny in the door, '
' And with my teeth a splinter disunite;

Next find a piece of brick upon the floor,
Crumble a part thereof to powder small,
And form a paste by sprinkling water o’er. [2] '

'Then, then came Poesy with fiery call
Into my carcass, by the way methought
Whence bread goes forth-there was none else at all.
'Now to return unto my primal thought:
Who wills to know what weal awaits him, must
First learn the ill that God for him hath wrought.

The jail contains all arts in act and trust; '
' Should you but hanker after surgeon’s skill,
’Twill draw the spoiled blood from your veins adust.

Next there is something in itself that will
Make you right eloquent, a bold brave spark, '
' Big with high-soaring thoughts for good and ill.

Blessed is the man who lies in dungeon dark,
Languishing many a month, then takes his flight
Of war, truce, peace he knows, and tells the mark. '

'Needs be that all things turn to his delight;
The jail has crammed his brains so full of wit,
They’ll dance no morris to upset the wight.

Perchance thou’lt urge: “Think how thy life did flit;
Nor is it true the jail can teach thee lore,
To fill thy breast and heart with strength of it!”

Nay, for myself I’ll ever praise it more:
Yet would I like one law passed-that the man
Whose acts deserve it should not scape this score.

Whoso hath gotten the poor folk in ban,
I’d make him learn those lessons of the jail;
For then he’d know all a good ruler can:

He’d act like men who weigh by reason’s scale,
Nor dare to swerve from truth and right aside,
Nor would confusion in the realm prevail.

While I was bound in prison to abide,
Foison of priests, friars, soldiers I could see;
But those who best deserved it least I spied.

Ah! could you know what rage came over me,
When for such rogues the jail relaxed her hold!
This makes one weep that one was born to be!

I’ll add no more. Now I’m become fine gold,
Such gold as none flings lightly to the wind,
Fit for the best work eyes shall e’er behold.

Another point hath passed into my mind,
Which I’ve not told thee, Luca; where I wrote,
Was in the book of one our kith and kind. [3]

There down the margins I was wont to note
Each torment grim that crushed me like a vice:
The paste my hurrying thoughts could hardly float.

To make an O, I dipped the splinter thrice
In that thick mud; worse woe could scarcely grind
Spirits in hell debarred from Paradise.

Seeing I’m not the first by fraud confined,
This I’ll omit; and once more seek the cell
Wherein I rack for rage both heart and mind.

I praise it more than other tongues will tell;
And, for advice to such as do not know,
Swear that without it none can labour well.

Yet oh! for one like Him I learned but now,
Who’d cry to me as by Bethesda’s shore:
Take thy clothes, Benvenuto, rise and go!

Credo I’d sing, Salve reginas pour
And Paternosters; alms I’d then bestow
Morn after morn on blind folk, lame, and poor.

Ah me! how many a time my cheek must grow
Blanched by those lilies! Shall I then forswear
Florence and France through them for evermore? [4]

If to the hospital I come, and fair
Find the Annunziata limned. I’ll fly:
Else shall I show myself a brute beast there. [5]

These words flout not Her worshipped sanctity,
Nor those Her lilies, glorious, holy, pure,
The which illumine earth and heaven high!

But for I find at every coign obscure
Base lilies which spread hooks where flowers should blow
Needs must I fear lest these to ruin lure. [6]

To think how many walk like me in woe!
Born what, how slaved to serve that hateful sign!
Souls lively, graceful, like to gods below!

I saw that lethal heraldry decline
From heaven like lightning among people vain;
Then on the stone I saw strange lustre shine.

The castle’s bell must break ere I with strain
Thence issued; and these things Who speaketh true
In heaven on earth, to me made wondrous plain. [7]

Next I beheld a bier of sombre hue
Adorned with broken lilies; crosses, tears;
And on their beds a lost woe-stricken crew. [8]

I saw the Death who racks our souls with fears;
This man and that she menaced, while she cried:
“I clip the folk who harm thee with these shears!”

That worthy one then on my brow wrote wide
With Peter’s pen words which-for he bade shun
To speak them thrice-within my breast I hide. [9]

Him I beheld who drives and checks the sun,
Clad with its splendour ‘mid his court on high,
Seld-seen by mortal eyes, if e’er by one. [10]

Then did a solitary sparrow cry
Loud from the keep; hearing which note, I said:
“He tells that I shall live and you must die!”

I sang, and wrote my hard case, head by head,
Asking from god pardon and aid in need,
For now If felt mine eyes outworn and dead.

Ne’er lion, tiger, wolf, or bear knew greed
Hungrier than that man felt for human blood;
Nor viper with more venomous fang did feed. [11]

The cruel chief was he of robbers’ brood,
Worst of the worst among a gang of knaves;
Hist! I’ll speak soft lest I be understood!

Say, have ye seen catchpolls, the famished slaves,
In act a poor man’s homestead to distrain,
Smashing down Christs, Madonnas, with their staves?

So on the first of August did that train
Dislodge me to a tomb more foul, more cold:-
“November damns and dooms each rogue to pain!” [12]

I at mine ears a trumpet had which told
Truth; and each word to them I did repeat,
Reckless, if but grief’s load from me were rolled.

They, when they saw their final hope retreat,
Gave me a diamond, pounded, no fair ring,
Deeming that I must die if I should eat.

That villain churl whose office ‘twas to bring
My food, I bade taste first; but meanwhile thought:
“Not here I find my foe Durante’s sting!”

Yet erst my mind unto high God I brought
Beseeching Him to pardon all my sin,
And spoke a Miserere sorrow-fraught.

Then when I gained some respite from that din
Of troubles, and had given my soul to God,
Contented better realms and state to win,

I saw along the path which saints have trod,
From heaven descending, glad, with glorious palm,
An angel: clear he cried, “Upon earth’s sod

Live longer thou! Through Him who heard thy psalm,
Those foes shall perish, each and all, in strife,
While thou remainest happy, free, and calm,
Blessed by our Sire in heaven on earth for life!”

Note 1. Cellini’s Capitolo in Praise of the Prison is clearly made up of
pieces written, as escribed above, in the dungeon of S. Angelo, and of
passages which he afterwards composed to bring these pieces into a
coherent whole. He has not displayed much literary skill in the
redaction, and I have been at pains to preserve the roughness of the

Note 2. The Italian is 'acqua morta;' probably a slang phrase for urine.

Note 3. 'Un nostro parente.' He says above that he wrote the Capitolo on
the leaves of his Bible.

Note 4. 'Un nostro parente.' He says above that he wrote the Capitolo on
the leaves of his Bible.

Note 5. Gabriel holds the lily in Italian paintings when he salutes the
Virgin Mary with 'Ave Virgo!'

Note 6. That is, he finds everywhere in Italy the arms of the Farnesi.

Note 7. Allusion to his prevision of the castellan’s death.

Note 8. Allusion to his prevision of Pier Luigi Farnese’s murder.

Note 9. Allusion to the angel who visited him in prison.

Note 10. Allusion to his vision of the sun in the dungeon.

Note 11. An invective against Pier Luigi Farnese.

Note 12. Allusion to the prophetic words he flung at the officers who
took him to Foiano’s dungeon.

End of Part One

Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini Part II


I REMAINED for some time in the Cardinal of Ferrara’s palace, very well
regarded in general by everybody, and much more visited even than I had
previously been. Everybody was astonished that I should have come out of
prison and have been able to live through such indescribable
afflictions; [1] and while I was recovering my breath and endeavouring
to resume the habit of my art, I had great pleasure in re-writing the
Capitolo. Afterwards, with a view to re-establishing my strength, I
determined to take a journey of a few days for change of air. My good
friend the Cardinal gave me permission and lent me horses; and I had two
young Romans for my companions, one of them a craftsman in my trade, the
other only a comrade in our journey. We left Rome, and took the road to
Tagliacozzo, intending to visit my pupil Ascanio, who lived there. On
our arrival, I found the lad, together with his father, brothers,
sisters, and stepmother. I was entertained by them two days with
indescribable kindness; then I turned my face towards Rome, taking
Ascanio with me. On the road we fell to conversing about our art, which
made me die of impatience to get back and recommence my labours.

Having reached Rome, I got myself at once in readiness to work, and was
fortunate enough to find again a silver basin which I had begun for the
Cardinal before I was imprisoned. Together with this basin I had begun a
very beautiful little jug; but this had been stolen, with a great
quantity of other valuable articles. I set Pagolo, whom I have
previously mentioned, to work upon the basin. At the same time I
recommenced the jug, which was designed with round figures and
bas-reliefs. The basin was executed in a similar style, with round
figures and fishes in bas-relief. The whole had such richness and good
keeping, that every one who beheld it expressed astonishment at the
force of the design and beauty of invention, and also at the delicacy
[2] with which these young men worked.

The Cardinal came at least twice a day to see me, bringing with him
Messer Luigi Alamanni and Messer Gabriel Cesano; [3] and here we used to
pass an hour or two pleasantly together. Notwithstanding I had very much
to do, he kept giving me fresh commissions. Among others, I had to make
his pontifical seal of the size of the hand of a boy of twelve. On it I
engraved in intaglio two little histories, the one of San Giovanni
preaching in the wilderness, the other of Sant’ Ambrogio expelling the
Arians [4] on horseback with a lash in his hand. The fire and
correctness of design of this piece, and its nicety of workmanship, made
every one say that I had surpassed the great Lautizio, who ranked alone
in this branch of the profession. The Cardinal was so proud of it that
he used to compare it complacently with the other seals of the Roman
cardinals, which were nearly all from the hand of Lautizio.

Note 1. This assertion is well supported by contemporary letters of Caro
and Alamanni.

Note 2. 'Pulitezza.' This indicates precision, neatness, cleanness of

Note 3. The name of Cesano is well known in the literary correspondence
of those times.

Note 4. It will be remembered that the Cardinal was Archbishop of Milan.


IN addition to these things the Cardinal ordered me to make the model
for a salt-cellar; but he said he should like me to leave the beaten
track pursued by such as fabricated these things. Messer Luigi, apropos
of this salt-cellar, made an eloquent description of his own idea;
Messer Gabriello Cesano also spoke exceedingly well to the same purpose.
The Cardinal, who was a very kindly listener, showed extreme
satisfaction with the designs which these two able men of letters had
described in words. Then he turned to me and said: “My Benvenuto, the
design of Messer Luigi and that of Messer Gabriello please me both so
well that I know not how to choose between them; therefore I leave the
choice to you, who will have to execute the work.” I replied as follows:
“It is apparent, my lords, of what vast consequence are the sons of
kings and emperors, and what a marvellous brightness of divinity appears
in them; nevertheless, if you ask some poor humble shepherd which he
loves best, those royal children or his sons, he will certainly tell you
that he loves his own sons best. Now I too have a great affection for
the children which I bring forth from my art; consequently the first
which I will show you, most reverend monsignor my good master, shall be
of my own making and invention. There are many things beautiful enough
in words which do not match together well when executed by an artist.”
Then I turned to the two scholars and said: “You have spoken, I will
do.” Upon this Messer Luigi Alamanni smiled, and added a great many
witty things, with the greatest charm of manner, in my praise; they
became him well, for he was handsome of face and figure, and had a
gentle voice. Messer Gabriello Cesano was quite the opposite, as ugly
and displeasing as the other was agreeable; accordingly he spoke as he

Messer Luigi had suggested that I should fashion a Venus with Cupid,
surrounded by a crowd of pretty emblems, all in proper keeping with the
subject. Messer Gabriello proposed that I should model an Amphitrite,
the wife of Neptune, together with those Tritons of the sea, and many
such-like fancies, good enough to describe in words, but not to execute
in metal.

I first laid down an oval framework, considerably longer than half a
cubit--almost two-thirds, in fact; and upon this ground, wishing to
suggest the interminglement of land and ocean, I modelled two figures,
considerably taller than a palm in height, which were seated with their
legs interlaced, suggesting those lengthier branches of the sea which
run up into the continents. The sea was a man, and in his hand I placed
a ship, elaborately wrought in all its details, and well adapted to hold
a quantity of salt. Beneath him I grouped the four sea-horses, and in
his right hand he held his trident. The earth I fashioned like a woman,
with all the beauty of form, the grace, and charm of which my art was
capable. She had a richly decorated temple firmly based upon the ground
at one side; and here her hand rested. This I intended to receive the
pepper. In her other hand I put a cornucopia, overflowing with all the
natural treasures I could think of. Below this goddess, in the part
which represented earth, I collected the fairest animals that haunt our
globe. In the quarter presided over by the deity of ocean, I fashioned
such choice kinds of fishes and shells as could be properly displayed in
that small space. What remained of the oval I filled in with luxuriant

Then I waited for the Cardinal; and when he came, attended by the two
accomplished gentlemen, I produced the model I had made in wax. On
beholding it, Messer Gabriel Cesano was the first to lift his voice up,
and to cry: “This is a piece which it will take the lives of ten men to
finish: do not expect, most reverend monsignor, if you order it, to get
it in your lifetime. Benvenuto, it seems, has chosen to display his
children in a vision, but not to give them to the touch, as we did when
we spoke of things that could be carried out, while he has shown a thing
beyond the bounds of possibility.” Messer Alamanni took my side; but the

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