As I’m sure you can imagine, Italy is not short of painters, sculptors and artists with extreme talent, both currently and historically.
An interesting example of this is the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini who was born in 1500 Florence and, to put it into historical context, born just after King Charles of France had invaded which acted as a catalyst to negative tensions between France and Spain with Italy as its desired prize, but also, more positively, a time when Italian art and ideas spread to other parts of Europe.
During his life, Rome was sacked by the Imperial army and Florence was overthrown by a coup d’etat with a cycle of the Medici in government, then removed then restored. In short, it was a time of instability and religious and dynastic war.
Benvenuto Cellini trained to be a goldsmith in Florence but went to live and work in Rome for different patrons such as Pope Clement VII as well as spending time at the court of King Francis I in France. He produced some exquisite sculptures such as the gold salt cellar made for Francis I which is now in Kunshthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the bronze statue of Perseus (Loggia deil Lanzi, Florence)
He is, however, best known for his autobiography begun in 1558, which gives an amazing insight into the period he lived in and tells us not just about his own personal artistic journey but also matters as diverse as the relationship between Francis I and his mistress; what Roman prisons were really like and types of people ranging from soldiers to inn-keepers and prostitutes.
In his autobiography we learn of how 16th century people lived – from all walks of life; their struggles and their morals.
The final years of his life are unrecorded but we learn of his own personal triumphs and problems; his periods in prison; his romantic life and how life was in Republican Florence. We also see his character as a humorous yet critical and egotistical person.
Cellini - not always likeable and perhaps we don’t warm to him – but certainly interesting.
It is of particular interest to see the lives of people in another era which is laid bare in this autobiography and provides us with a fascinating insight into that period.