Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini and the hidden portrait
In the open-air museum that is the Piazza della Signoria, inside the Loggia dei Lanzi, you can admire the beautiful Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini.
The Grand Duke Cosimo I, while modifying the art and culture of Florence, followed Vasari’s advice and asked the famous goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini to make a statue that would celebrate the reaffirmation of the Medici dynasty over the city.
On the other arcade of the Loggia dei Lanzi there was in fact, Judith Slaying Holofernes by Donatello that the Republican government had carried there in 1495 to celebrate the newfound freedom against the tyranny of the Medici.
The new statue, Perseus, was thought to reconfirm the power of Grand Duke of Florence against the enemies of the city: so Perseus represented the young Duke, who kills the Republican monster that is full of snakes,Medusa.
Cellini willingly accepted the job. His statue could this way be compared with the great masterpieces of the world: Donatello’s Judith and Michelangelo’s David, but also with the graceless and only muscles group of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, that Cellini did not like and that he wanted take revenge on.
Cellini’s challenge was not only artistic but also and mainly technical: large bronze sculptures were fused in small parts and then assembled. Instead Cellini wanted his Perseus statue to be cast in one only fusion. So he first casted the head of Medusa, then monster’s body and finally Perseus. 24 tons of bronze were used for the single figure of Perseus and about 8 tons for the body of Medusa.
As the sculptor writes in the beautiful pages of his autobiography, that he managed to have a successful fusion overcoming dramatic moments, including an outbreak of fire in his house.
The right foot missed some fingers and also the left shin had to be casted again but Cellini devoted himself to the statue. He also had to fix the major flaws of the thickness of the bronze. This work of “rinettatura,” (cleaning) as he calls it, lasted from December 1549 to April 1554 when the sculpture was unveiled and shown to the public.
Cellini tells that the Grand Duke, before to congratulate him for the success of Perseus “was a long time to eavesdrop behind a window on the lower floors of the Palazzo Vecchio, listening to the praises that people tributed to the work”.
Cellini is a great goldsmith and this statue shows the world his greatness. As the self-centered person as he was he could not give up to self-portrait himself. Turn around the statue and look for the proud and virile faceand body that Cellini has chosen to give himself for eternity.