"I Took Her by the Hair and Dragged Her Up and Down"

August 18, 2014

Statue of Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Autobiography.
Vol. 31, pp. 312-323 of The Harvard Classics

In Cellini's day the model's life was a hazardous one. Cellini's Autobiography reveals how some models were treated. You will find it more thrilling than the most modern novel.


HAD but just dismounted from my horse, when one of those excellent people who rejoice in mischief-making came to tell me that Pagolo Micceri had taken a house for the little hussy Caterina and her mother, and that he was always going there, and whenever he mentioned me, used words of scorn to this effect: “Benvenuto set the fox to watch the grapes,  and thought I would not eat them! Now he is satisfied with going about and talking big, and thinks I am afraid of him. But I have girt this sword and dagger to my side in order to show him that my steel can cut as well as his, and that I too am a Florentine, of the Micceri, a far better family than his Cellini.” The scoundrel who reported this poisonous gossip spoke it with such good effect that I felt a fever in the instant swoop upon me; and when I say fever, I mean fever, and no mere metaphor. The insane passion which took possession of me might have been my death, had I not resolved to give it vent as the occasion offered. I ordered the Ferrarese workman, Chioccia, to come with me, and made a servant follow with my horse. When we reached the house where that worthless villain was, I found the door ajar, and entered. I noticed that he carried sword and dagger, and was sitting on a big chest with his arm round Caterina’s neck; at the moment of my arrival, I could hear that he and her mother were talking about me. Pushing the door open, I drew my sword, and set the point of it at his throat, not giving him the time to think whether he too carried steel. At the same instant I cried out: “Vile coward! recommend your soul to God, for you are a dead man.” Without budging from his seat, he called three times: “Mother, mother, help me!” Though I had come there fully determined to take his life, half my fury ebbed away when I heard this idiotic exclamation. I ought to add that I had told Chioccia not to let the girl or her mother leave the house, since I meant to deal with those trollops after I had disposed of their bully. So I went on holding my sword at his throat, and now and then just pricked him with the point, pouring out a torrent of terrific threats at the same time. But when I found he did not stir a finger in his own defence, I began to wonder what I should do next; my menacing attitude could not be kept up for ever; so at last it came into my head to make them marry, and complete my vengeance at a later period. Accordingly, I formed my resolution, and began: “Take that ring, coward, from your finger, and marry her, that I may get satisfaction from you afterwards according to your deserts.” He replied at once: “If only you do not kill me, I will do whatever you command.” “Then,” said I, “put that ring upon her hand.” When the sword’s point was withdrawn a few inches from his throat, he wedded her with the ring. But I added: “This is not enough. I shall send for two notaries, in order that the marriage may be ratified by contract.” Bidding Chioccia go for the lawyers, I turned to the girl and her mother, and, using the French language, spoke as follows: “Notaries and witnesses are coming; the first of you who blabs about this affair will be killed upon the spot; nay, I will murder you all three. So beware, and keep a quiet tongue in your heads.” To him I said in Italian: “If you offer any resistance to what I shall propose, upon the slightest word you utter I will stab you till your guts run out upon this floor.” He answered: “Only promise not to kill me, and I will do whatever you command.” The notaries and witnesses arrived; a contract, valid and in due form, was drawn up; then my heat and fever left me. I paid the lawyers and took my departure.

  On the following day Bologna came to Paris on purpose, and sent for me through Mattio del Nasaro. I went to see him; and he met me with a glad face, entreating me to regard him as a brother, and saying that he would never speak about that work again, since he recognised quite well that I was right.

Note 1. Aveva dato a guardia la lattuga ai paperi.


IF I did not confess that in some of these episodes I acted wrongly, the world might think I was not telling the truth about those in which I say I acted rightly. Therefore I admit that it was a mistake to inflict so singular a vengeance upon Pagolo Micceri. In truth, had I believed him to be so utterly feeble, I should not have conceived the notion of branding him with such infamy as I am going to relate.

  Not satisfied with having made him take a vicious drab to wife, I completed my revenge by inviting her to sit to me as a model, and dealing with her thus. I gave her thirty sous a day, paid in advance, and a good meal, and obliged her to pose before me naked. Then I made her serve my pleasure, out of spite against her husband, jeering at them both the while. Furthermore, I kept her for hours together in position, greatly to her discomfort. This gave her as much annoyance as it gave me pleasure; for she was beautifully made, and brought me much credit as a model. At last, noticing that I did not treat her with the same consideration as before her marriage, she began to grumble and talk big in her French way about her husband, who was now serving the Prior of Capua, a brother of Piero Strozzi. 1On the first occasion when she did this, the mere mention of the fellow aroused me to intolerable fury; still I bore it, greatly against the grain, as well as I was able, reflecting that I could hardly find so suitable a subject for my art as she was. So I reasoned thus in my own mind: “I am now taking two different kinds of revenge. In the first place, she is married; and what I am doing to her husband is something far more serious than what he did to me, when she was only a girl of loose life. If then I wreak my spite so fully upon him, while upon her I inflict the discomfort of posing in such strange attitudes for such a length of time—which, beside the pleasure I derive, brings me both profit and credit through my art—what more can I desire?” While I was turning over these calculations, the wretch redoubled her insulting speeches, always prating big about her husband, till she goaded me beyond the bounds of reason. Yielding myself up to blind rage, I seized her by the hair, and dragged her up and down my room, beating and kicking her till I was tired. There was no one who could come to her assistance. When I had well pounded her she swore that she would never visit me again. Then for the first time I perceived that I had acted very wrongly; for I was losing a grand model, who brought me honour through my art. Moreover, when I saw her body all torn and bruised and swollen, I reflected that, even if I persuaded her to return, I should have to put her under medical treatment for at least a fortnight before I could make use of her.

Note 1. Leone, son of Filippo Strozzi, Knight of Jerusalem and Prior of Capua, was, like his brother Piero, a distinguished French general.


WELL, to return to Caterina. I sent my old serving-woman, named Ruberta, who had a most kindly disposition, to help her dress. She brought food and drink to the miserable baggage; and after rubbing a little bacon fat into her worst wounds, they ate what was left of the meat together. When she had finished dressing, she went off blaspheming and cursing all Italians in the King’s service, and so returned with tears and murmurs to her home.

  Assuredly, upon that first occasion, I felt I had done very wrong, and Ruberta rebuked me after this fashion: “You are a cruel monster to maltreat such a handsome girl so brutally.” When I excused my conduct by narrating all the tricks which she and her mother had played off upon me under my own roof, Ruberta scoldingly replied that that was nothing—that was only French manners, and she was sure there was not a husband in France without his horns. When I heard this argument, I laughed aloud, and then told Ruberta to go and see how Caterina was, since I should like to employ her again while finishing the work I had on hand. The old woman took me sharply up, saying that I had no savoir vivre: “Only wait till daybreak, and she will come of herself; whereas, if you send to ask after her or visit her, she will give herself airs and keep away.”

  On the following morning Caterina came to our door, and knocked so violently, that, being below, I ran to see whether it was a madman or some member of the household. When I opened, the creature laughed and fell upon my neck, embracing and kissing me, and asked me if I was still angry with her. I said, “No!” Then she added: “Let me have something good to break my fast on.” So I supplied her well with food, and partook of it at the same table in sign of reconciliation. Afterwards I began to model from her, during which occurred some amorous diversions; and at last, just at the same hour as on the previous day, she irritated me to such a pitch that I gave her the same drubbing. So we went on several days, repeating the old round like clockwork. There was little or no variation in the incidents.

  Meanwhile, I completed my work in a style which did me the greatest credit. Next I set about to cast it in bronze. This entailed some difficulties, to relate which would be interesting from the point of view of art; but since the whole history would occupy too much space, I must omit it. Suffice it to say, that the figure came out splendidly, and was as fine a specimen of foundry as had ever been seen. 1

Note 1. This figure was undoubtedly the Nymph of Fontainebleau.


WHILE this work was going forward, I set aside certain hours of the day for the salt-cellar, and certain others for the Jupiter. There were more men engaged upon the former than I had at my disposal for the latter, so the salt-cellar was by this time completely finished. The King had now returned to Paris; and when I paid him my respects, I took the piece with me. As I have already related, it was oval in form, standing about two-thirds of a cubit, wrought of solid gold, and worked entirely with the chisel. While speaking of the model, I said before how I had represented Sea and Earth, seated, with their legs interlaced, as we observe in the case of firths and promontories; this attitude was therefore metaphorically appropriate. The Sea carried a trident in his right hand, and in his left I put a ship of delicate workmanship to hold the salt. Below him were his four sea-horses, fashioned like our horses from the head to the front hoofs; all the rest of their body, from the middle backwards, resembled a fish, and the tails of these creatures were agreeably inter-woven. Above this group the Sea sat throned in an attitude of pride and dignity; around him were many kinds of fishes and other creatures of the ocean. The water was represented with its waves, and enamelled in the appropriate colour. I had portrayed Earth under the form of a very handsome woman, holding her horn of plenty, entirely nude like the male figure; in her left hand I placed a little temple of Ionic architecture, most delicately wrought, which was meant to contain the pepper. Beneath her were the handsomest living creatures which the earth produces; and the rocks were partly enamelled, partly left in gold. The whole piece reposed upon a base of ebony, properly proportioned, but with a projecting cornice, upon which I introduced four golden figures in rather more than half-relief. They represented Night, Day, Twilight, and Dawn. I put, moreover, into the same frieze four other figures, similar in size, and intended for the four chief winds; these were executed, and in part enamelled, with the most exquisite refinement. 1

  When I exhibited this piece to his Majesty, he uttered a loud outcry of astonishment, and could not satiate his eyes with gazing at it. Then he bade me take it back to my house, saying he would tell me at the proper time what I should have to do with it. So I carried it home, and sent at once to invite several of my best friends; we dined gaily together, placing the salt-cellar in the middle of the table, and thus we were the first to use it. After this, I went on working at my Jupiter in silver, and also at the great vase I have already described, which was richly decorated with a variety of ornaments and figures.

Note 1. This salt-cellar is now at Vienna. It is beautifully represented by two photogravures in Plon’s great book on Cellini.


AT that time Bologna, the painter, suggested to the King that it would be well if his Majesty sent him to Rome, with letters of recommendation, to the end that he might cast the foremost masterpieces of antiquity, namely, the Laocoon, the Cleopatra, the Venus, the Commodus, the Zingara, and the Apollo. 1 These, of a truth, are by far the finest things in Rome. He told the King that when his Majesty had once set eyes upon those marvellous works, he would then, and not till then, be able to criticise the arts of design, since everything which he had seen by us moderns was far removed from the perfection of the ancients. The King accepted his proposal, and gave him the introductions he required. Accordingly that beast went off, and took his bad luck with him. Not having the force and courage to contend with his own hands against me, he adopted the truly Lombard device of depreciating my performances by becoming a copyist of antiques. In its own proper place I shall relate how, though he had these statues excellently cast, he obtained a result quite contrary to his imagination.

  I had now done for ever with that disreputable Caterina, and the unfortunate young man, her husband, had decamped from Paris. Wanting then to finish off my Fontainebleau, which was already cast in bronze, as well as to execute the two Victories which were going to fill the angles above the lunette of the door, I engaged a poor girl of the age of about fifteen. She was beautifully made and of a brunette complexion. Being somewhat savage in her ways and spare of speech, quick in movement, with a look of sullenness about her eyes, I nicknamed her Scorzone; 2 her real name was Jeanne. With her for model, I gave perfect finish to the bronze Fontainebleau, and also to the two Victories.

  Now this girl was a clean maid, and I got her with child. She gave birth to a daughter on the 7th of June, at thirteen hours of the day, in 1544, when I had exactly reached the age of forty-four. I named the infant Costanza; and Mr. Guido Guidi, the King’s physician, and my most intimate friend, as I have previously related, held her at the font. He was the only godfather; for it is customary in France to have but one godfather and two godmothers. One of the latter was Madame Maddalena, wife to M. Luigi Alamanni, a gentleman of Florence and an accomplished poet. The other was the wife of M. Ricciardo del Bene, our Florentine burgher, and a great merchant in Paris; she was herself a French lady of distinguished family. This was the first child I ever had, so far as I remember. I settled money enough upon the girl for dowry to satisfy an aunt of hers, under whose tutelage I placed her, and from that time forwards I had nothing more to do with her.

Note 1. The Cleopatra is that recumbent statue of a sleeping Ariadne or Bacchante now in the Vatican. The Venus (neither the Medicean nor the Capitoline) represents the goddess issuing from the bath; it is now in the Museo Pio Clementino of the Vatican. The Commodus is a statue of Hercules, with the lion’s skin and an infant in his arms, also in the Vatican. The Zingara may be a statue of Diana forming part of the Borghese collection. The Apollo is the famous Belvedere Apollo of the Vatican.
Note 2. That is, in Italian, “the rough rind,” a name given to rustics. Scorzone is also the name for a little black venomous serpent.


BY labouring incessantly I had now got my various works well forward; the Jupiter was nearly finished, and the vase also; the door began to reveal its beauties. At that time the King came to Paris; and though I gave the right date of the year 1544 for my daughter’s birth, we were still in 1543; but an opportunity of mentioning my daughter having arisen, I availed myself of it, so as not to interrupt the narrative of more important things. Well, the King, as I have said, came to Paris, and paid me a visit soon after his arrival. The magnificent show of works brought well-nigh to completion was enough to satisfy anybody’s eye; and indeed it gave that glorious monarch no less contentment than the artist who had worked so hard upon them desired. While inspecting these things, it came into his head that the Cardinal of Ferrara had fulfilled none of his promises to me, either as regarded a pension or anything else. Whispering with his Admiral, he said that the Cardinal of Ferrara had behaved very badly in the matter; and that he intended to make it up to me himself, because he saw I was a man of few words, who in the twinkling of an eye might decamp without complaining or asking leave.

  On returning home, his Majesty, after dinner, told the Cardinal to give orders to his treasurer of the Exchequer that he should pay me at an early date seven thousand crowns of gold, in three or four instalments, according to his own convenience, provided only that he executed the commission faithfully. At the same time he repeated words to this effect: “I gave Benvenuto into your charge, and you have forgotten all about him.” The Cardinal said that he would punctually perform his Majesty’s commands; but his own bad nature made him wait till the King’s fit of generosity was over. Meanwhile wars and rumours of wars were on the increase; it was the moment when the Emperor with a huge army was marching upon Paris. 1 Seeing the realm of France to be in great need of money, the Cardinal one day began to talk of me, and said: “Sacred Majesty, acting for the best, I have not had that money given to Benvenuto. First, it is sorely wanted now for public uses. Secondly, so great a donation would have exposed you to the risk of losing Benvenuto altogether; for if he found himself a rich man, he might have invested his money in Italy, and the moment some caprice took of him, he would have decamped without hesitation. I therefore consider that your Majesty’s best course will be to present him with something in your kingdom, if you want to keep him in your service for any length of time.” The King, being really in want of money, approved of these arguments; nevertheless, like the noble soul he was, and truly worthy of his royal station, he judged rightly that the Cardinal had acted thus in order to curry favour rather than from any clear prevision of distressed finances in so vast a realm.

Note 1. In 1544 Charles V. advanced toward Champagne and threatened Paris, while the English were besieging Boulogne.


AS I have just said, his Majesty affected to concur with the Cardinal, but his own private mind was otherwise made up. Accordingly, upon the day after his arrival, without solicitation upon my part, he came of his own accord to my house. I went to meet him, and conducted him through several rooms where divers works of art were on view. Beginning with the less important, I pointed out a quantity of things in bronze; and it was long since he had seen so many at once. Then I took him to see the Jupiter in silver, now nearly completed, with all its splendid decorations. It so happened that a grievous disappointment which he had suffered a few years earlier, made him think this piece more admirable than it might perhaps have appeared to any other man. The occasion to which I refer was this: After the capture of Tunis, the Emperor passed through Paris with the consent of his brother-in-law, King Francis, 1 who wanted to present him with something worthy of so great a potentate. Having this in view, he ordered a Hercules to be executed in silver, exactly of the same size as my Jupiter. The King declared this Hercules to be the ugliest work of art that he had ever seen, and spoke his opinion plainly to the craftsmen of Paris. They vaunted themselves to be the ablest craftsmen in the world for works of this kind, and informed the King that nothing more perfect could possibly have been produced in silver, insisting at the same time upon being paid two thousand ducats for their filthy piece of work. This made the King, when he beheld mine, affirm that the finish of its workmanship exceeded his highest expectations. Accordingly he made an equitable judgment, and had my statue valued also at two thousand ducats, saying: “I gave those other men no salary; Cellini, who gets about a thousand crowns a year from me, can surely let me have this masterpiece for two thousand crowns of gold, since he has his salary into the bargain.” Then I exhibited other things in gold and silver, and a variety of models for new undertakings. At the last, just when he was taking leave, I pointed out upon the lawn of the castle that great giant, which roused him to higher astonishment than any of the other things he had inspected. Turning to his Admiral, who was called Monsignor Aniballe, 2 he said: “Since the Cardinal had made him no provision, we must do so, and all the more because the man himself is so slow at asking favours—to cut it short, I mean to have him well provided for; yes, these men who ask for nothing feel that their masterpieces call aloud for recompense; therefore see that he gets the first abbey that falls vacant worth two thousand crowns a year. If this cannot be had in one benefice, let him have two or three to that amount, for in his case it will come to the same thing.” As I was standing by, I could hear what the King said, and thanked his Majesty at once for the donation, as though I were already in possession. I told him that as soon as his orders were carried into effect, I would work for his Majesty without other salary or recompense of any kind until old age deprived me of the power to labour, when I hoped to rest my tired body in peace, maintaining myself with honour on that income, and always bearing in mind that I had served so great a monarch as his Majesty. At the end of this speech the King turned toward me with a lively gesture and a joyous countenance, saying, “So let it then be done.” After that he departed, highly satisfied with what he had seen there.

Note 1. In the year 1539 Charles V obtained leave to traverse France with his army on the way Flanders. 
Note 2. Claude d’ Annebault; captured at Pavia with François; Marshall in 1538; Admiral of France in 1543. 


MADAME D’ETAMPES, when she heard how well my affairs were going, redoubled her spite against me, saying in her own heart: “It is I who rule the world to-day, and a little fellow like that snaps his fingers at me! She put every iron into the fire which she could think of, in order to stir up mischief against me. Now a certain man fell in her way, who enjoyed great fame as a distiller; he supplied her with perfumed waters, which were excellent for the complexion, and hitherto unknown in France. This fellow she introduced to the King, who was much delighted by the processes for distilling which he exhibited. While engaged in these experiments, the man begged his Majesty to give him a tennis-court I had in my castle, together with some little apartments which he said I did not use. The good King, guessing who was at the bottom of the business, made no answer; but Madame d’Etampes used those wiles with which women know so well to work on men, and very easily succeeded in her enterprise; for having taken the King at a moment of amorous weakness, to which he was much subject, she wheedled him into conceding what she wanted.

  The distiller came, accompanied by Treasurer Grolier, a very great nobleman of France, who spoke Italian excellently, and when he entered my castle, began to jest with me in that language. 1 Watching his opportunity, 2 he said: “In the King’s name I put this man here into possession of that tennis-court, together with the lodgings that pertain to it.” To this I answered: “The sacred King is lord of all things here: so then you might have effected an entrance with more freedom: coming thus with notaries and people of the court looks more like a fraud than the mandate of a powerful monarch. I assure you that, before I carry my complaints before the King, I shall defend my right in the way his Majesty gave me orders two days since to do. I shall fling the man whom you have put upon me out of windows if I do not see a warrant under the King’s own hand and seal.” After this speech the treasurer went off threatening and grumbling, and I remained doing the same, without, however, beginning the attack at once. Then I went to the notaries who had put the fellow in possession. I was well acquainted with them; and they gave me to understand that this was a formal proceeding, done indeed at the King’s orders, but which had not any great significance; if I had offered some trifling opposition the fellow would not have installed himself as he had done. The formalities were acts and customs of the court, which did not concern obedience to the King; consequently, if I succeeded in ousting him, I should have acted rightly, and should not incur any risk.

  This hint was enough for me, and next morning I had recourse to arms; and though the job cost me some trouble, I enjoyed it. Each day that followed, I made an attack with stones, pikes and arquebuses, firing, however, without ball; nevertheless, I inspired such terror that no one dared to help my antagonist. Accordingly, when I noticed one day that his defence was feeble, I entered the house by force, and expelled the fellow, turning all his goods and chattels into the street. Then I betook me to the King, and told him that I had done precisely as his Majesty had ordered, by defending myself against every one who sought to hinder me in his service. The King laughed at the matter, and made me out new letters-patent to secure me from further molestation. 3

Note 1. Jean Grolier, the famous French Mæcenas, collector of books, antiquities, &c. 
Note 2. Vedendo il bello. 
Note 3. This document exists, and is dated July 15, 1544. See Bianchi, p. 585.

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