Book summary: Volume one of a two volume set
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) was one of the enigmatic, larger-than-life figures of the Italian Renaissance: a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author and soldier, but also a hooligan and even avenging killer.
Cellini produced several of his most celebrated works at Fontainebleau and Paris, including a salt cellar (now in the museum at Vienna) and large silver statues (subsequently lost) of Jupiter, Vulcan and Mars. Characteristically, Cellini became embroiled in disputes with those around him and in 1545 he returned at last to his native Florence, where he remained until his death in 1571. At Florence Cellini created one of the most celebrated works of his long career and one of the notable monuments of the Italian Renaissance, the bronze figure Perseus holding the Head of Medusa. Other acclaimed statuary of the period include Ganymede on the Eagle and a bust of Cosimo I de Medici, both now in the Bargello Museum in Florence.
Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562. As noted in the introduction, "His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence."
The work was edited and translated by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), one of the foremost men of letters of his time. He was a preeminent Victorian poet, critic, and historian. He is renowned for his reviews, essays, translations, art histories, and poetry. Symonds joined the rarified ranks of John Ruskin and Walter Pater as a major arbiter of Victorian taste. His books Renaissance in Italy and Life of Michaelangelo are landmarks of 19th-century literary scholasticism.