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ACTing UP in the Renaissance:The Case of Benvenuto Cellini

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Anal Intercourse Sexual Pleasure Harsh Penalty Queer Theory Heterosexual Sodomy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    John Addington Symonds, The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Rpr. London: MacMillan, 1920), p. xxxv.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    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
  5. 10.
    Michael J. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford, 1996), p. 10.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    I take this term from the now-classic essay by Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 5, 4 (1980), pp. 631–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 12.
    Guido Ruggiero, The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice (New York: Oxford, 1985), p. 109.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 232.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Ruggiero, pp. 121–25 and Rocke, pp. 101–09. See also John K. Brackett, Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence, 1537–1609 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 131–32.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Leonard Barkan, Transuming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 105.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    James M. Saslow, “Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behavior, Identity, and Artistic Expression” in: Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, eds. Martin B. Duberman et al. (New York: New American Library, 1989), pp. 90–105; quotation on p. 101.Google Scholar
  12. Gregory Woods, A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Annamarie Jagose, Queer Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 1996), pp. 98, 112.Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    Joseph Cady, “‘Masculine Love,’ Renaissance Writing, and the New ‘Invention’ of Homosexuality,” Journal of Homosexuality 23 (1992), pp. 9–40; quotation on p. 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 38.
    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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