Then, after innumerable compliments, he added: “I want to set you working on something else which is even dearer to my heart than what you are doing now, if you feel you are up to it.”
Then he said that he was anxious to have some dies made for the Mint, asked me if I had ever made any and if I was confident enough to take the work on. I replied that I was willing and confident and that I had seen how they were made, though I had never made any myself.
Now a certain Tommaso de Prato, the Papal datary, was present at this interview; and being a close friend of my enemies he took it on himself to say:
“Holy Father, you’re pouring so many favours on this young man, and he’s so anxious for them, that he’ll be only too ready to promise you a new world. You’ve already set him one great task, and you’re adding a greater one and the result will be that one will hinder the other.”
The Pope, who was really furious at this, turned on him and told him to mind his own business. Then he ordered me to design the model for a gold doubloon. He wanted the design to show the naked figure of Christ, with His hands bound, and the inscription: Ecce Homo. The reverse was to show the figures of a pope and an emperor, both of them holding upright a cross that was on the point of falling, with the inscription: Unus spiritus et una fides erat in eis.
The Pope had just given me instructions to make this beautiful coin when Bandinello the sculptor came up. This was before he had been knighted; and with his usual mixture of presumption and ignorance he said: “The goldsmiths must be provided with designs for such beautiful works.”
I immediately turned to him and told him that I had no need of his designs for my work, but that I felt sure that before long my designs would deal some nasty blows to his. The Pope was delighted at what I said, and leaning towards me he added:
“Now go along my dear Benvenuto, put all your energies into serving me, and pay no attention to what these idiots say.”
(From the George Bull translation)
Okay, how can you not be grabbed by a page that starts off with the Pope bursting out in an astonished oath to believe anything the narrator of the book will say? Can this possibly be true? In short order, we're treated to plenty of evidence that Benvenuto Cellini suffers from no frailty of self-image; on his mere say-so, he's getting the Pope to commission him to do work that he's never personally done before, despite apparently being quite young in this scene. The odds seem good that there's some exaggeration going on here, but if so, it's certainly entertaining exaggeration. Furthermore, by paragraph four we're getting the impression that Cellini has enemies everywhere, and by paragraph eight we start to see why.
Clearly, if this page is any indication, the book at hand must be a constant barrage of arrogant self-congratulation, denigration of Cellini's rivals and enemies, and perhaps unhappy repercussions from his willingness to embarrass powerful people in front of even more powerful people. If one is prepared to tolerate an unreliable memoirist, this page promises a window upon the temper and pettiness of at least one Renaissance Pope, as well as politicians and artists of scheming character and pompous tone. And it makes that promise in a quick and light style, highly readable and with a flair for concise description.
Two ruby-and-emerald-encrusted gold thumbs up!