ACTing UP in the Renaissance:The Case of Benvenuto Cellini

  • Margaret A. Gallucci
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


In the introduction to his English translation of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1888), the Victorian John Addington Symonds characterized Cellini’s sexual relations with boys as partaking of“ the darker lusts which deformed Florentine society in that epoch.” In a footnote, he clarified these darker lusts as that “unnatural vice”—commonly understood to signify sodomy—something so unpleasant that Symonds himself could not even name it. Elaborating further, Symonds claimed that Cellini’s desires were “animal, licentious, almost brutal.”1 Symonds was not the first to note that there was something strange, what we would now call queer,2 about Cellini’s sexual behavior, particularly when compared to that other favorite of the Victorian imagination, Michelangelo, whose sonnets Symonds had translated a decade earlier. Symonds joined a long line of famous men that included Stendhal and Goethe who were simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by Cellini’s sexual misdeeds. Of course, that such invective against Cellini should come from Symonds—himself homosexual—suggests a queerness beyond the scope of this brief essay.


Anal Intercourse Sexual Pleasure Harsh Penalty Queer Theory Heterosexual Sodomy 
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  1. 1.
    John Addington Symonds, The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Rpr. London: MacMillan, 1920), p. xxxv.Google Scholar
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    Teresa de Lauretis, “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities. An Introduction,” Differences 3,2 (1991), p. iv.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    James M. Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 48.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Extant documentation on this earlier case is very slight; to my knowledge only the very brief sentence survives. For more on Cellini’s two convictions for sodomy as well as the claim he makes in the Vita that he was hauled into court in Paris in ca. 1543 on the charge of heterosexual sodomy with his model and occasional sex partner Caterina, see Paolo L. Rossi, “The Writer and the Man. Real Crimes and Mitigating Circumstances: il caso Cellini” in: Crime, Society and the Law in Renaissance Italy, eds. T. Dean and K. J. P. Lowe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 157–83 and particularly 174–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Pope-Hennessy, Cellini (London: MacMillan, 1985), p. 254.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret A. Gallucci

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