Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Perseus = Bronze + Pewter Tableware

The first time I heard about Cellini was not in an art history lecture, but while watching How to Steal a Million (1966, starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole). Even though there really isn't a Venus sculpture by Cellini, this film is really fun - especially if you like stories about art crime and forgery.

I recently was reading more about Cellini, and came across an interesting fact about his Perseus statue (1545-54, shown left). Perseus was intended to be placed in the same location as other major statues, specifically ones by Michelangelo and Donatello. Cellini undoubtedly felt pressure to compete with the skill of these canonical artists. Consequently, Cellini made the figures and design of this statue extremely complex (which is so typical for Mannerist art, don't you think?), and it seemed unlikely that the work could be cast in a single piece. However, Cellini prevailed in creating a near-perfect cast, even though he almost burned down his studio in the process. My favorite thing about this story, though, is that Cellini was forced to throw pewter tableware into his furnace as an emergency precaution (in order to increase the liquidity of the molten metal)!1

Technically, I guess the media listing for this statue should be: "Pewter [tableware] and bronze on marble base."

You can read Cellini's dramatic account of casting Perseus here.

1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist, (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 99.