Here is the most important autobiography from Renaissance Italy and one of the most spirited and colorful from any time or place, in a translation widely recognized as the most faithful to the energy and spirit of the original. Benvenuto Cellini was both a beloved artist in sixteenth-century Florence and a passionate and temperamental man of action who was capable of brawling, theft, and murder. He counted popes, cardinals, kings, and dukes among his patrons and was the adoring friend of--as he described them--the "divine" Michelangelo and the "marvelous" Titian, but was as well known for his violent feuds. At age twenty-seven he helped defend the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, and his account of his imprisonment there (under a mad castellan who thought he was a bat), his escape, recapture, and confinement in "a cell of tarantulas and venomous worms" is an adventure equal to any other in fact or fiction. But it is only one in a long life lived on a grand scale.
Cellini's autobiography is not merely the record of an extraordinary life but also a dramatic and evocative
account of daily life in Renaissance Italy, from its lowest taverns to its highest royal courts.
Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence in 1500 and died in 1571. James Fenton is a prizewinning poet, former professor of poetry at Oxford, and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.