Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 5A56
Benvenuto Cellini
Cellini Letter
Florence, 27 November 1565

Go to Transcription
Go to Manuscript page 


In the fall of 1565, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) wrote to Giovanni Caccini, a prominent Medici bureaucrat who held the office as Provveditore di Pisa, about the relocation of his Neptune from Florence’s Loggia dei Lanzi. The reference here is to the full-sized model the sculptor had created in 1560 in the attempt to obtain the commission, eventually won by his rival Bartolomeo Ammannati, for the Neptune fountain of Piazza della Signoria. In the letter, the artist petitions that his work be moved to the church of Orsanmichele and designates a certain “master Giannello” as the best suited person for the task. He also suggests that the model could be easily transformed into a statue of Jupiter, via the addition of the iconographic device of the eagle. In his typically effusive style, Cellini concludes the text by complaining about the mistreatments he had endured in ducal Florence. He records, for instance, how some “evil, envious enemies” had deliberately attempted to damage his bronze Perseus, also in the Loggia dei Lanzi, during the transportation of Ammannati’s marble model for the fountain of the Piazza.

Only the subscription (“Alli servitii di V. S.”) and the signature of the present document are autograph: the handwriting of the body of the letter belongs to one of the non-professional scribes who worked for Cellini during the final decades of his life. While the scribe’s identity remains unknown, the Cellini manuscripts in the Biblioteca Riccardiana and the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence preserve several writings in his hand. These are mostly poems and petitions that he penned on behalf and under the supervision of the sculptor, all dating to ca. 1565-1567 (compare, for instance, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Autografi Palatini, Cellini I. 8, 21, 53). Also some pages of the original manuscript of the artist’s autobiography are in the scribe’s handwriting (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, cod. Med. Pal. 2342, cc. 461r-464r).

Once preserved in the archive of the Florentine marquis Francesco Riccardi (1648-1719), in the twentieth century the document entered the private collection of Jean Davray (1914-1985) and, after its selling at an auction in Paris in December 1961, it was acquired by Louis H. Silver.


Corsiva di mano di Benvenuto Cellini, usuale, dal tracciato sottile, incerto e spezzato.
Da notare: r divaricata (r. 2: quore); la t con asta concava (r. 4: virtuosa); i falsi legamenti st (r. 18: festa).
-Maddalena Signorini

Selected Bibliography: