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Kligerman, C. (1975). Notes on Benvenuto Cellini. Ann. Psychoanal., 3:409-421.

(1975). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 3:409-421

Notes on Benvenuto Cellini

Charles Kligerman, M.D.

The celebrated Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) has long been considered a prototype not only of the Renaissance bravo, but also of the temperamental artist who lacks inhibition and disdains the conventions of the ordinary world. Cellini has, in addition, been termed psychopathic, delinquent, morally insane, or, at best, narcissistic. Popular legend credits him with brawling, whoring, murdering, and creating beautiful works of art, all with equal insouciance. Even his great translator, John Addington Symonds (1887), who on the whole regards his subject with sympathetic understanding, states in his Introduction to the autobiography, “… when I come to speak about his homicides, it will be obvious that he enjoyed killing live men quite as much as casting bronze statues” (p. 6). Much of Cellini's reputation derives from his own statements in the famous work, which he dictated in the vigorous Tuscan vernacular at the age of 58, and which stands as one of the great autobiographies of all time. But a careful examination of this book will convince the reader that Cellini never killed any man lightly (except perhaps during his service as bombardier in battle defending the pope). Indeed, Symonds himself later softens his statement considerably. The three or four men Cellini killed were all murdered either in the heat of passion or in self-defense, with the exception of his brother's slayer, whom he waylaid in cold blood, as we shall describe more fully later.

But it was not homicide, not too unusual in his violent age, but arrogance, quick temper, and a sharp tongue that got Cellini into trouble.

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