Hand in hand with this attitude struts an exalted opinion of his own charms, prowess, and artistic superiority. In his conceit (for it is only a heroic form of this defect), he embodies not only individualism but also the concurrent phenomenon of humanism, which resurrected from ancient Rome such self-appreciation as appears so disagreeably in Cicero. With his high estimate of his own art modern criticism does not unqualifiedly agree. Of his labor as goldsmith so little that is certainly authentic remains that judgment is difficult; the chief extant example, the saltcellar of Francis I. now in the Imperial Treasury at Vienna, is unpleasant in composition and too ornate. In his few plastic works on a large scale, one of which, the bronze bust of Bindo Altoviti, America is fortunate enough to possess in the wonderful collection of Mrs. John L. Gardner, Boston, he is perhaps less affected than most of his rivals by the degeneration into which Italian sculpture lapsed in the second and third quarters of the Cinquecento; but in comparison to the productions of the earlier Renaissance, or of his contemporary Michelangelo, his profound affection and admiration for whom form one of his noblest traits, he betrays too close a dependence upon the antique, a tendency to excessive nicety and elaboration, derived from his training as a jeweler but unsuited to the broader manner of monumental statuary, a leaning toward ostentatious and luxuriant decoration, and a fatal predilection for sacrificing æsthetic considerations to the display of virtuosity in composition and in processes. All these characteristics are exemplified in what remains from his work, and may also be read between the lines of the “Autobiography.” The inclination to a display of skill is especially evident in the absorbing and famous description of the casting of the Perseus.〖See frontispiece in H. C., xxxi, and pp. 376-383.〗 Over his whole art, as indeed over most of the art of the later sixteenth century, there broods a certain deadness and a sense of the perfunctory, which are strangely contrasted with the spontaneity that runs from his pen. The somewhat unjustifiable braggadocio about this phase of his activity arouses suspicions as to the veracity of the tales about his courage and other achievements. Some of the details, such as the worm that he vomited forth after his long sickness,〖H. C., xxxi, 170.〗 or the sight of the demons in the Colosseum,〖H. C., xxxi, 127-128.〗 seem hardly credible, but it must be remembered that we are dealing with a man of a high-strung, nervous temperament, whose imagination easily materializes the visions of his mind. Other episodes, like the various brawls and homicides in which he engaged, or the escape from the Castel Sant’ Angelo, are improbable from our standpoint, but not in an epoch of extravagances like the Renaissance or for one of those supermen of Cellini’s caliber, in which the period was so rich. Much of the “Autobiography” receives confirmation from contemporary documents, and its main fabric is certainly trustworthy, though highly colored, doubtless to increase its artistic worth and to set off to advantage the central figure of the writer.

I have spoken of Benvenuto as a superman, and herein, too he is a result of the astounding development of the individual witnessed by the Renaissance. In his versatility he is second only to such giants of universal talent as Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. He excels equally as musician, goldsmith, and sculptor; he is an adept with the sword and with the musket; his skill as a diplomatist is paralleled only by his merriness as a jester; a languishing lover one day, he is a fierce murderer the next; a part of his imprisonment he spends in devising a miraculous escape, and the rest in mystic religious trances; he can write you passable occasional sonnets and respectable treatises on art; and finally he bequeaths to the world what is probably the most remarkable autobiography in existence.

All Directories