Benvenuto Boasts of Gallantry (Dec. 10)

Benvenuto Boasts of Gallantry
Taking offense at a soldier who made advances toward his
favorite lady, Cellini jumped from the window, knife in hand,
to avenge himself. This incident was recorded with characteristic
conceit by Cellini in his amazing diary.
Read from CELLINI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. 31, pp. 62-72

I shall be obliged to digress a little from the history of my art,
unless I were to omit some annoying incidents which have happened
in the course of my troubled career. One of these, which I am about
to describe, brought me into the greatest risk of my life. I have
already told the story of the artists’ club, and of the farcical adventures
which happened owing to the woman whom I mentioned,
Pantasilea, the one who felt for me that false and fulsome love. She
was furiously enraged because of the pleasant trick by which I
brought Diego to our banquet, and she swore to be revenged on me.
How she did so is mixed up with the history of a young man called
Luigi Pulci, who had recently come to Rome. He was the son of one
of the Pulcis, who had been beheaded for incest with his daughter;
and the youth possessed extraordinary gifts for poetry together with
sound Latin scholarship; he wrote well, was graceful in manners,
and of surprising personal beauty; he had just left the service of some
bishop, whose name I do not remember, and was thoroughly tainted
with a very foul disease. While he was yet a lad and living in
Florence, they used in certain places of the city to meet together
during the nights of summer on the public streets; and he, ranking
among the best of the improvisatori, sang there. His recitations were
so admirable, that the divine Michel Agnolo Buonarroti, that prince
of sculptors and of painters, went, wherever he heard that he would
be, with the greatest eagerness and delight to listen to him. There

was a man called Piloto, a goldsmith, very able in his art, who,
together with myself, joined Buonarroti upon these occasions.1 Thus
acquaintance sprang up between me and Luigi Pulci; and so, after
the lapse of many years, he came, in the miserable plight which I have
mentioned, to make himself known to me again in Rome, beseeching
me for God’s sake to help him. Moved to compassion by his great
talents, by the love of my fatherland, and by my own natural tenderness
of heart, I took him into my house, and had him medically
treated in such wise that, being but a youth, he soon regained his
health. While he was still pursuing his cure, he never omitted his
studies, and I provided him with books according to the means at
my disposal. The result was that Luigi, recognising the great benefits
he had received from me, oftentimes with words and tears returned
me thanks, protesting that if God should ever put good fortune
in his way, he would recompense me for my kindness. To
this I replied that I had not done for him as much as I desired, but
only what I could, and that it was the duty of human beings to
be mutually serviceable. Only I suggested that he should repay the
service I had rendered him by doing likewise to some one who might
have the same need of him as he had had of me.
The young man in question began to frequent the Court of Rome,
where he soon found a situation, and enrolled himself in the suite of
a bishop, a man of eighty years, who bore the title of Gurgensis.2
This bishop had a nephew called Messer Giovanni: he was a nobleman
of Venice; and the said Messer Giovanni made show of marvellous
attachment to Luigi Pulci’s talents; and under the pretence
of these talents, he brought him as familiar to himself as his own
flesh and blood. Luigi having talked of me, and of his great obligations
to me, with Messer Giovanni, the latter expressed a wish to
make my acquaintance. Thus then it came to pass, that when I had
upon a certain evening invited that woman Pantasilea to supper, and
had assembled a company of men of parts who were my friends, just
at the moment of our sitting down to table, Messer Giovanni and
1 Piloto, of whom we shall hear more hereafter, was a prominent figure in the
Florentine society of artists, and a celebrated practical joker. Vasari says that a young
man of whom he had spoken ill murdered him. Lasca’s Novelle, he Cene, should be
studied by those who seek an insight into this curious Bohemia of the sixteenth century.
2 Girolamo Balbo, of the noble Venetian family, Bishop of Gurck, in Carinthia.

Luigi Pulci arrived, and after some complimentary speeches, they
both remained to sup with us. The shameless strumpet, casting her
eyes upon the young man’s beauty, began at once to lay her nets for
him; perceiving which, when the supper had come to an agreeable
end, I took Luigi aside, and conjured him, by the benefits he said
he owed me, to have nothing whatever to do with her. To this he
answered: "Good heavens, Benvenuto! do you then take me for a
madman?" I rejoined: "Not for a madman, but for a young fellow;"
and I swore to him by God: "I do not give that woman the least
thought; but for your sake I should be sorry if through her you
came to break your neck." Upon these words he vowed and prayed
to God, that, if ever he but spoke with her, he might upon the moment
break his neck. I think the poor lad swore this oath to God
with all his heart, for he did break his neck, as I shall presently relate.
Messer Giovanni showed signs too evident of loving him in a dishonourable
way; for we began to notice that Luigi had new suits
of silk and velvet every morning, and it was known that he abandoned
himself altogether to bad courses. He neglected his fine talents,
and pretended not to see or recognise me, because I had once
rebuked him, and told him he was giving his soul to foul vices,
which would make him break his neck, as he had vowed.
Now Messer Giovanni bought his favourite a very fine black horse,
for which he paid 150 crowns. The beast was admirably trained to
hand, so that Luigi could go daily to caracole around the lodgings
of that prostitute Pantasilea. Though I took notice of this, I paid
it no attention, only remarking that all things acted as their nature
prompted; and meanwhile I gave my whole mind to my studies. It
came to pass one Sunday evening that we were invited to sup together
with the Sienese sculptor, Michel Agnolo, and the time of
the year was summer. Bachiacca, of whom I have already spoken,
was present at the party; and he had brought with him his old
flame, Pantasilea. When we were at table, she sat between me and
Bachiacca; but in the very middle of the banquet she rose, and
excused herself upon the pretext of a natural need, saying she would
speedily return. We, meanwhile, continued talking very agreeably

and supping; but she remained an unaccountably long time absent.
It chanced that, keeping my ears open, I thought I heard a sort of
subdued tittering in the street below. I had a knife in hand, which
I was using for my service at the table. The window was so close
to where I sat, that, by merely rising, I could see Luigi in the street,
together with Pantasilea; and I heard Luigi saying: "Oh, if that
devil Benvenuto only saw us, shouldn’t we just catch it!" She answered:
"Have no fear; only listen to the noise they’re making; we
are the last thing they’re thinking of." At these words, having made
them both well out, I leaped from the window, and took Luigi by
the cape; and certainly I should then have killed him with the knife
I held, but that he was riding a white horse, to which he clapped
spurs, leaving his cape in my grasp, in order to preserve his life.
Pantasilea took to her heels in the direction of a neighbouring
church. The company at supper rose immediately, and came down,
entreating me in a body to refrain from putting myself and them to
inconvenience for a strumpet. I told them that I should not have
let myself be moved on her account, but that I was bent on punishing
the infamous young man, who showed how little he regarded me.
Accordingly I would not yield to the remonstrances of those ingenious
and worthy men, but took my sword, and went alone toward
Prati:—the house where we were supping, I should say, stood close
to the Castello gate, which led to Prati.1 Walking thus upon the
road to Prati, I had not gone far before the sun sank, and I re-entered
Rome itself at a slow pace. Night had fallen; darkness had come on;
but the gates of Rome were not yet shut.
Toward two hours after sunset, I walked along Pantasilea’s lodging,
with the intention, if Luigi Pulci were there, of doing something
to the discontent of both. When I heard and saw that no one but
a poor servant-girl called Canida was in the house, I went to put
away my cloak and the scabbard of my sword, and then returned
to the house, which stood behind the Banchi on the river Tiber. Just
opposite stretched a garden belonging to an innkeeper called Romolo.
1 The Porta Castello was the gate called after the Castle of S. Angelo. Prati, so far
as I can make out, was an open space between the Borgo and the Bridge of S. Angelo.
In order to get inside Rome itself, Cellini had to pass a second gate. His own lodging
and Pantasilea’s house were in the quarter of the Bianchi, where are now the Via
Giulia and Via de’ Banchi Vecchi.

It was enclosed by a thick hedge of thorns, in which I hid myself,
standing upright, and waiting till the woman came back with Luigi.
After keeping watch awhile there, my friend Bachiacca crept up to
me; whether led by his own suspicions or by the advice of others,
I cannot say. In a low voice he called out to me: "Gossip" (for so we
used to name ourselves for fun); and then he prayed me for God’s
love, using the words which follow, with tears in the tone of his
voice: "Dear gossip, I entreat you not to injure that poor girl; she
at least has erred in no wise in this matter—no, not at all." When I
heard what he was saying, I replied: "If you don’t take yourself off
now, at this first word I utter, I will bring my sword here down upon
your head." Overwhelmed with fright, my poor gossip was suddenly
taken ill with the colic, and withdrew to ease himself apart;
indeed, he could not but obey the call. There was a glorious heaven
of stars, which shed good light to see by. All of a sudden I was aware
of the noise of many horses; they were coming toward me from the
one side and the other. It turned out to be Luigi and Pantasilea,
attended by a certain Messer Benvegnato of Perugia, who was chamberlain
to Pope Clement, and followed by four doughty captains of
Perugia, with some other valiant soldiers in the flower of youth;
altogether reckoned, there were more than twelve swords. When
I understood the matter, and saw not how to fly, I did my best to
crouch into the hedge. But the thorns pricked and hurt me, goading
me to madness like a bull; and I had half resolved to take a leap and
hazard my escape. Just then Luigi, with his arm round Pantasilea’s
neck, was heard crying: "I must kiss you once again, if only to insult
that traitor Benvenuto." At that moment, annoyed as I was by the
prickles, and irritated by the young man’s words, I sprang forth,
lifted my sword on high, and shouted at the top of my voice: "You
are all dead folk!" My blow descended on the shoulder of Luigi;
but the satyrs who doted on him, had steeled his person round with
coats of mail and such-like villainous defences; still the stroke fell
with crushing force. Swerving aside, the sword hit Pantasilea full
in nose and mouth. Both she and Luigi grovelled on the ground,
while Bachiacca, with his breeches down to heels, screamed out and
ran away. Then I turned upon the others boldly with my sword;
and those valiant fellows, hearing a sudden commotion in the tav-


ern, thought there was an army coming of a hundred men; and
though they drew their swords with spirit, yet two horses which
had taken fright in the tumult cast them into such disorder that a
couple of the best riders were thrown, and the remainder took to
flight. I, seeing that the affair was turning out well for me, ran as
quickly as I could, and came off with honour from the engagement,
not wishing to tempt fortune more than was my duty. During this
hurly-burly, some of the soldiers and captains wounded themselves
with their own arms; and Messer Benvegnato, the Pope’s chamberlain,
was kicked and trampled by his mule. One of the servants also,
who had drawn his sword, fell down together with his master, and
wounded him badly in the hand. Maddened by the pain, he swore
louder than all the rest in his Perugian jargon, crying out: "By the
body of God, I will take care that Benvegnato teaches Benvenuto
how to live." He afterwards commissioned one of the captains who
were with him (braver perhaps than the others, but with less aplomb,
as being but a youth) to seek me out. The fellow came to visit me
in the place of my retirement; that was the palace of a great Neapolitan
nobleman, who had become acquainted with me in my art,
and had besides taken a fancy to me because of my physical and
mental aptitude for fighting, to which my lord himself was personally
well inclined. So, then, finding myself made much of, and
being precisely in my element, I gave such answer to the captain
as I think must have made him earnestly repent of having come to
look me up. After a few days, when the wounds of Luigi, and the
strumpet, and the rest were healing, this great Neapolitan nobleman
received overtures from Messer Benvegnato; for the prelate’s anger
had cooled, and he proposed to ratify a peace between me and Luigi
and the soldiers, who had personally no quarrel with me, and only
wished to make my acquaintance. Accordingly my friend the nobleman
replied that he would bring me where they chose to appoint,
and that he was very willing to effect a reconciliation. He stipulated
that no words should be bandied about on either side, seeing that
would be little to their credit; it was enough to go through the form
of drinking together and exchanging kisses; he for his part undertook
to do the talking, and promised to settle the matter to their
honour. This arrangement was carried out. On Thursday evening

my protector took me to the house of Messer Benvegnato, where
all the soldiers who had been present at that discomfiture were
assembled, and already seated at table. My nobleman was attended
by thirty brave fellows, all well armed; a circumstance which Messer
Benvegnato had not anticipated. When we came into the hall, he
walking first, I following, he spake to this effect: "God save you,
gentlemen; we have come to see you, I and Benvenuto, whom I love
like my own brother; and we are ready to do whatever you propose."
Messer Benvegnato, seeing the hall filled with such a crowd of men,
called out: "It is only peace, and nothing else, we ask of you." Accordingly
he promised that the governor of Rome and his catchpoles
should give me no trouble. Then we made peace, and I returned to
my shop, where I could not stay an hour without that Neapolitan
nobleman either coming to see me or sending for me.
Meanwhile Luigi Pulci, having recovered from his wound, rode
every day upon the black horse which was so well trained to heel
and bridle. One day, among others, after it had rained a little, and
he was making his horse curvet just before Pantasilea’s door, he
slipped and fell, with the horse upon him. His right leg was broken
short off in the thigh; and after a few days he died there in Pantasilea’s
lodgings, discharging thus the vow he registered so heartily
to Heaven. Even so may it be seen that God keeps account of the
good and the bad, and gives to each one what he merits.
The whole world was now in warfare.1 Pope Clement had sent to
get some troops from Giovanni de’ Medici, and when they came,
they made such disturbances in Rome, that it was ill living in open
shops.2 On this account I retired to a good snug house behind the
Banchi, where I worked for all the friends I had acquired. Since I
produced few things of much importance at that period, I need not
waste time in talking about them. I took much pleasure in music
and amusements of the kind. On the death of Giovanni de’ Medici
‘War had broken out in 1521 between Charles V. and Francis I., which disturbed
all Europe and involved the States of Italy in serious complications. At the moment
when this chapter opens, the Imperialist army under the Constable of Bourbon was
marching upon Rome in 1527.
2 These troops entered Rome in October 1526. They were disbanded in March, 1527.

in Lombardy, the Pope, at the advice of Messer Jacopo Salviati, dismissed
the five bands he had engaged; and when the Constable of
Bourbon knew there were no troops in Rome, he pushed his army
with the utmost energy up to the city. The whole of Rome upon
this flew to arms. I happened to be intimate with Alessandro, the
son of Piero del Bene, who, at the time when the Colonnesi entered
Rome, had requested me to guard his palace.3 On this more serious
occasion, therefore, he prayed me to enlist fifty comrades for the
protection of the said house, appointing me their captain, as I had
been when the Colonnesi came. So I collected fifty young men of
the highest courage, and we took up our quarters in his palace, with
good pay and excellent appointments.
Bourbon’s army had now arrived before the walls of Rome, and
Alessandro begged me to go with him to reconnoitre. So we went
with one of the stoutest fellows in our Company; and on the way a
youth called Cecchino della Casa joined himself to us. On reaching
the walls by the Campo Santo, we could see that famous army,
which was making every effort to enter the town. Upon the ramparts
where we took our station several young men were lying killed
by the besiegers; the battle raged there desperately, and there was
the densest fog imaginable. I turned to Alessandro and said: "Let us
go home as soon as we can, for there is nothing to be done here; you
see the enemies are mounting, and our men are in flight." Alessandro,
in a panic, cried: "Would God that we had never come
here!" and turned in maddest haste to fly. I took him up somewhat
sharply with these words: "Since you have brought me here, I must
perform some action worthy of a man;" and directing my arquebuse
where I saw the thickest and most serried troop of fighting men, I
aimed exactly at one whom I remarked to be higher than the rest;
the fog prevented me from being certain whether he was on horseback
or on foot. Then I turned to Alessandro and Cecchino, and
bade them discharge their arquebuses, showing them how to avoid
being hit by the besiegers. When we had fired two rounds apiece, I
crept cautiously up to the wall, and observing among the enemy a
3 Cellini here refers to the attack made upon Rome by the great Ghibelline house of
Colonna, led by their chief captain, Pompeo, in September 1526. They took possession
of the city and drove Clement into the Castle of S. Angelo, where they forced him to
agree to terms favouring the Imperial cause. It was customary for Roman gentlemen
to hire bravi for the defence of their palaces when any extraordinary disturbance was
expected, as, for example, upon the vacation of the Papal Chair.

most extraordinary confusion, I discovered afterwards that one of
our shots had killed the Constable of Bourbon; and from what I subsequently
learned, he was the man whom I had first noticed above
the heads of the rest.4
Quitting our position on the ramparts, we crossed the Campo
Santo, and entered the city by St. Peter’s; then coming out exactly
at the church of Santo Agnolo, we got with the greatest difficulty
to the great gate of the castle; for the generals Renzo di Ceri and
Orazio Baglioni were wounding and slaughtering everybody who
abandoned the defence of the walls.5 By the time we had reached
the great gate, part of the foemen had already entered Rome, and
we had them in our rear. The castellan had ordered the portcullis
to be lowered, in order to do which they cleared a little space, and
this enabled us four to get inside. On the instant that I entered, the
captain Pallone de’ Medici claimed me as being of the Papal household,
and forced me to abandon Alessandro, which I had to do, much
against my will. I ascended to the keep, and at the same instant Pope
Clement came in through the corridors into the castle; he had refused
to leave the palace of St. Peter earlier, being unable to believe that
his enemies would effect their entrance into Rome.6 Having got
into the castle in this way, I attached myself to certain pieces of artillery,
which were under the command of a bombardier called Giuliano
Fiorentino. Leaning there against the battlements, the unhappy
man could see his poor house being sacked, and his wife
and children outraged; fearing to strike his own folk, he dared not
discharge the cannon, and flinging the burning fuse upon the ground,
he wept as though his heart would break, and tore his cheeks with
*A11 historians of the sack of Rome agree in saying that Bourbon was shot dead
while placing ladders against the outworks near the shop Cellini mentions. But the
honour of firing the arquebuse which brought him down cannot be assigned to any
one in particular. Very different stories were current on the subject. See Gregorovius,
Stadt Rom., vol. viii. p. 522.
5 For Renzo di Ceri see above, p. 46. Orazio Baglioni, of the semi-princely Perugian
family, was a distinguished Condottiere. He subsequently obtained the captaincy of
the Bande Nere, and died fighting near Naples in 1528. Orazio murdered several of
his cousins in order to acquire the lordship of Perugia. His brother Malatesta undertook
to defend Florence in the siege of 1530, and sold the city by treason to Clement.
6 Giovio, in his Life of the Cardinal Prospero Colonna, relates how he accompanied
Clement in his flight from the Vatican to the castle. While passing some open portions
of the gallery, he threw his violet mantle and cap of a Monsignore over the white stole
of the Pontiff, for fear he might be shot at by the soldiers in the streets below.

both his hands.7 Some of the other bombardiers were behaving in like
manner; seeing which, I took one of the matches, and got the assistance
of a few men who were not overcome by their emotions. I
aimed some swivels and falconets at points where I saw it would
be useful, and killed with them a good number of the enemy. Had
it not been for this, the troops who poured into Rome that morning,
and were marching straight upon the castle, might possibly have
entered it with ease, because the artillery was doing them no damage.
I went on firing under the eyes of several cardinals and lords, who
kept blessing me and giving me the heartiest encouragement. In
my enthusiasm I strove to achieve the impossible; let it suffice that it
was I who saved the castle that morning, and brought the other
bombardiers back to their duty.8 I worked hard the whole of that
day; and when the evening came, while the army was marching
into Rome through the Trastevere, Pope Clement appointed a great
Roman nobleman named Antonio Santacroce to be captain of all the
gunners. The first thing this man did was to come to me, and having
greeted me with the utmost kindness, he stationed me with five fine
pieces of artillery on the highest point of the castle, to which the
name of the Angel specially belongs. This circular eminence goes
round the castle, and surveys both Prati and the town of Rome. The
captain put under my orders enough men to help in managing my
guns, and having seen me paid in advance, he gave me rations of
bread and a little wine, and begged me to go forward as I had, begun.
I was perhaps more inclined by nature to the profession of arms
than to the one I had adopted, and I took such pleasure in its duties
that I discharged them better than those of my own art. Night
came, the enemy had entered Rome, and we who were in the castle
(especially myself, who have always taken pleasure in extraordinary
sights) stayed gazing on the indescribable scene of tumult and conflagration
in the streets below. People who were anywhere else but
where we were, could not have formed the least imagination of
what it was. I will not, however, set myself to describe that tragedy,
‘The short autobiography of Raffaello da Montelupo, a man in many respects resembling
Cellini, confirms this part of our author’s narrative. It is one of the most
interesting pieces of evidence regarding what went on inside the castle during the sack
of Rome. Montelupo was also a gunner, and commanded two pieces.
8 This is an instance of Cellini’s exaggeration. He did more than yeoman’s service,
no doubt. But we cannot believe that, without him, the castle would have been taken.

but will content myself with continuing the history of my own life
and the circumstances which properly belong to it.

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