three pairs of lovers with space

THE PUNISHMENT OF CELLINI FOR SODOMISING BOYS

 

Benvenuto Cellini (3 November 1500 – 13 February 1571) was a leading Florentine sculptor and goldsmith. Like most Florentine men of his era, he was sexually active with boys as well as women.[1] His attraction to them is strongly hinted at in his autobiography, and also suggested by his preoccupation with making sculptures of the beautiful boys most renowned in antiquity for being loved by gods, Ganymede, Hyakinthos and Narkissos. However, it is the much harder evidence of his two convictions for sodomising boys that is the subject of this article.

Besides these two cases not mentioned in his autobiography, Cellini also described in it how he was charged with sodomy on two others occasions, charges which he inevitably claimed were false.[2] In France in about 1543, a girl called Caterina accused him of having “had used her in the Italian fashion, that is to say, unnaturally, like a sodomite,” which she made clear in court meant pedication, but the charges were apparently dropped. Then, in Florence in 1545, “a prostitute called Gambetta” accused him of sodomising her son, whom he described as his pretty little apprentice Cencio, but he fled temporarily to Venice, and the matter never came to trial.

 

Domenico di ser Guiliano da Ripa

Jupiter (at the base of Cellini's statue of Perseus, finished in 1554) with Cellini's own features

Dr. Luigi Greci examined the Florentine archives for all of Cellini’s troubles with the law there and reported the following on the young Cellini’s first conviction for sex in his essay 'Benvenuto Cellini nei delitti e nei processi fiorentini ricostruiti attraverso le leggi del tempo (Da documenti ineditii)' in Archivio di antropologia criminale, psicichiatria e medicina legale L (Turin, 1930) p. 359:

From the documents found at the State Archives of Florence we know that on 14 January 1523 Benvenuto Cellini was tried by the lords Eight on Public Safety[3] for having committed libidinous acts together with a certain Giovanni di ser Matteo Rigoli upon Domenico di Ser Giuliano da Ripa. The pronouncement of the sentence was not traced by us amongst the acts of the Eight on Public Safety of this era and perhaps no longer exists.[4] However, we also know - indirectly - that Cellini was sentenced to pay twelve bushels of flour for these libidinous acts of lust (read sodomy).

 

Fernando di Giovanni di Montepulciano

Cellini’s legacies to Fernando

Summarised from P. Calamandrei, Scritti e inediti Celliniani (Florence, 1971) pp. 82-3:

Cellini’s affection for Fernando was shown by his making a will in his favour, leaving him thirty gold florins and thirty bushels of wheat. (There may even have been a secret will, written on 6 May 1556, after the death of Cellini’s son Jacopo Giovanni, in which he went further and named Fernando as his heir. However, the known will stipulated that Fernando would lose all rights to any bequests and be disinherited if he were to leave Cellini. A ricordo says the boy did exactly this on 26 June 1556 and was accordingly cut out of the will.

 

Cellini’s arrest

Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) p. 26, citing as her source here G. Baccini, "Scarperia. L'arresto di Benvenuto Cellini," Bollettino storico-letterario del Mugello 1 (1892): 27-29:

Ten days [before his second conviction for sodomy], on 17 February 1557, Cellini was captured in Scarperia in an attempt to flee the area; he was arrested and remanded to Florence.

 

Sentence of the Otto di Guardia Convicting
Cellini of Sodomy, Dated 27 February 1557

Arms of the Florentine Otto di Guardia e Balia

The original document from the State Archives of Florence was published by Luigi Greci in his essay 'Benvenuto Cellini nei delitti e nei processi fiorentini ricostruiti attraverso le leggi del tempo (Da documenti ineditii)' in Archivio di antropologia criminale, psicichiatria e medicina legale L (Turin, 1930). The translation here, based on slight amendments of Greci’s text, after examining the original, is by Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) pp. 153-4:

Saturday 27 February 1557. Item in the same manner because this magistracy has examined a denunciation against Benvenuto, son of Master Giovanni Cellini, sculptor and Florentine citizen, as it appears in the book of denunciations numbered 287 on page 32 [which states that] for about the last five years this Cellini had kept as his boy Fernando di Giovanni da Montepulciano , a youth who he used most frequently[5] sexually engaging in the despicable vice of sodomy, keeping him in bed as if he was his wife, and also because there is in the possession of the court the written confession of the said Benvenuto, as can be read in the files of the complaint numbered 154, where he confesses that it is true that he sodomized the said Fernando; thus in accordance with the law this court condemns the said Benvenuto to pay a fine of 50 golden scudi to the Treasury of His Most Illustrious Excellency as is the protocol and to serve four years in the prison known as the Stinche from the day he will have presented himself there and strips him for life of holding public office, following the tenor of the said laws. Convicted with a vote of seven black beans.[6] Notified on 2 March by me the under-mentioned chancellor.[7] Sent to the Treasury on 26 March as requested. See the change in the confinement in this volume on page 106. The Secretary [Francesco Borghini] noted that his confinement is assigned to his house because he can serve there the said sentence as His Excellency ruled.

 

Cellini on his imprisonment

I have been languishing here for two months in despair.
Some say I am here because of Ganymede,
Others because I have spoken too audaciously.
-  Cellini, Sonnet XXXIV, written in prison[8]

 

Letter of Supplication Written by Cellini to
Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, Dated 3 March 1557

This document is from the State Archives of Florence, Magistrato degli Otto di Guardia e Balla (granducal period), vol. 2232 (Filze di Suppliche) , fol. 552r. It was first published by Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) pp. 147-8. The translation here is hers:

Bust of Cosimo I Duke of Florence by Cellini, ca. 1550

Most Illustrious Lord, Most Excellent and Most Worthy of Reverence, My Duke and Master,[9] Having been by the Magistrates of the Eight judged and condemned to pay fifty scudi and moreover to spend four years in the Stinche: I recall now that since I served Your Most Illustrious Excellency for twelve years with that love and faith and worthiness of art that You yourself have witnessed, and since I have always known My Lord and Master to be most merciful and compassionate and I have seen and heard that Your Most Illustrious Excellency has granted pardons to many others: genuflecting, I throw myself before you, begging you to convert the incarceration to confinement within the walls of Your city or even to my own house, or into exile beyond the boundaries of Your dominion, for that amount of time that pleases Your Most Illustrious Excellency so that I will be able to finish a marble Christ which is near completion that will be Your true glory. I only ask for the love of God given that never in my youth did I have to be ashamed of any misfortune on this account-that you don't wish that now at fifty-seven with greater damage and shame that I should have to pay the tax of such youthful folly. So, if you grant this pardon, I will donate the rest of my life to You, always praying to God for Your happiness.

From prison. 3 March 1557.
The most faithful servant of Your Most Illustrious Excellency,
Benvenuto Cellini)

A second letter of supplication to the Duke for Cellini’s imprisonment to be commuted to house arrest was written in his own hand by the Provost of Pavia on 22 March 1557.[10]

 

The Commutation of Cellini’s Punishment

Four days later, on 26 March 1557, having considered these supplications, the Duke granted the requested commutation to house arrest for four years,[11] which was passed on to the Magistrates of the Eight for official rubber-stamping the next day. [12] He was set free the day after, the 28th, without having made provision for the payment of the fifty-scudo fine.

 

[1] See the exhaustive study of this by Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships. Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence, (Oxford, 1996), which established from the chance survival of rich court records that, amongst other things, at least two thirds of Florentine males were implicated in sodomy, which almost invariably meant pedication of boys.

[2] Regarding why Cellini chose to mention in his autobiography the two accusations of sodomy that did not result in conviction, but omitted the two that did, Paolo L. Rossi suggests an answer with the question “Could it be that by introducing the topic and showing that such accusations were untrue he sought to exorcise this aspect of his life from the eyes of posterity?” (“The writer and the man. Real crimes and mitigating circumstances: Il caso Cellini” in Crime, Society and the Law in Renaissance Italy, edited by Trevor Dean and K. J. P. Lowe, Cambridge, 1994, p. 177)

[3] The Eight on Public Safety (Otto di Guardia e Balia) were eight citizens who acted as magistrates in charge of the criminal and police affairs of the Republic of Florence.

[4] Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) p. 163, came to the same conclusion: “Extant documentation on this earlier case is very slight; to my knowledge, only the very brief sentence survives.”

[5] The significance of the long period during which Cellini had sodomised Fernando and the frequency with which he had done so lies in a special provision of the new and harsher law against sodomy introduced on 8 July 1542. “the right of the courts to levy harsher penalties against men convicted of having sexual relations with the same partner over a long period of time. The provision had been designed to draw "a sharper distinction between those whose involvement in sodomy was fleeting or casual and tho se, more culpable and subject to greater stigma, whose illicit erotic activity was more intense or habitual." 19 The court records reveal that the magistrates accused Cellini of being one of those men regarded as the most dangerous to the social order because their sexual acts with boys were not part of a temporary "stage" in life. In their eyes, Cellini fit the profile of an older (and unmarried) sodomite for whom boys were the primary erotic or affective focus.” (Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) p. 27)

[6] "The voting procedure of the Otto involved the use of black or white beans, which were secretly deposited in a cup by each judge. The secretary did not vote. A vote of seven black beans was needed to convict, seven white to acquit." (John K. Brackett, Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence 1537-1609, Cambridge, 1992, p. 64).

[7] This means that on that day, the chancellor Ser Francesco Lapucci of the court’s ruling. Presumably he was imprisoned in the Stinche immediately afterwards (Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) p. 26).

[8] Benvenuto Cellini’s Opere, edited by Bruno Maier (Rizzoli, 1968) p. 900. Several modern historians have followed Cellini in speculating that the case was indeed brought against him by those at the ducal court in order to curb his audacity there, to which his own autobiography bears witness, qv. See, for example, D. Trento, Benvenuto Cellini, opera non esposte e documenti notarili (Florence, 1984) p. 48.

[9] As Duke, Cosimo de’ Medici was empowered to oversee the mitigation of sentences. The system of supplication involved only the writing of a letter to the duke and "amounted to a kind of negotiation between the violator and [the duke], in which the sentence was, in effect, a mutually agreed upon compromise." (John K. Brackett, Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence 1537-1609, Cambridge, 1992, p. 74.)

[10] It was preserved in the Book of Supplications in the Years 1556-1557 in the State Archives of Florence. and published by Luigi Greci in  'Benvenuto Cellini nei delitti e nei processi fiorentini ricostruiti attraverso le leggi del tempo (Da documenti ineditii)' in Archivio di antropologia criminale, psicichiatria e medicina legale L (Turin, 1930) p. 537. According to Brackett, Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence 1537-1609, (Cambridge, 1992) such letters , written by reliable moral authorities, and attesting to the good character of the supplicants, often led to a favourable outcome.

[11] “The act of making a law and subsequently granting a grazia was a way in which Cosimo could demonstrate to one and all that he truly exercised power and was a ruler.” (Margaret Gallucci, Benvenuto Cellini: Sexuality, Masculinity and Artistic Identity in Renaissance Italy (New York, 2003) p. 29).

[12] “Partiti et Deliberationi dei Signori Otto di Guardia et Balia degli anni 1556 e 1557” p. 557, in the State Archives of Florence.

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