23/02/16 Aggiornato il:

Benvenuto Cellini ~ Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1554




Perseus with the Head of Medusa is a bronze sculpture made by Benvenuto Cellini in 1545. The sculpture stands upon on a square base with bronze relief panels depicting the story of Perseus and Andromeda, similar to a predella on an altarpiece. It is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The second Florentine duke, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, commissioned the work with specific political connections to the other sculptural works in the piazza. When the piece was revealed to the public on 27 April 1554, Michelangelo’s David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes were already erected in the piazza.

The subject matter of the work is the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa with her snakey head in his raised hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture and Medusa’s head turns men to stone and is appropriately surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune. Cellini breathed new life into the piazza visitor through his new use of bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa and the motifs he used to respond to the previous sculpture in the piazza. If one examines the sculpture from the back, you can see the self-image of the sculptor Cellini on the backside of Perseus' helmet.
The sculpture is thought to be the first statue since the classical age where the base included a figurative sculpture forming an integral part of the work.


 

Cellini was the first to integrate narrative relief into the sculpture of the piazza. As the Perseus was installed in the Loggia, it dominated the dimensions of later pedestals of other sculptural works within the Loggia, like Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine. Perseus added to the cast of Olympian gods protecting the Medici. Weil-Garris also focuses on the pedestal beneath the sculpture in the round. However, it may not have been Cellini’s original intent, as the relief was still being worked on and installed when the bronze sculpture above had already been revealed. The Medici still dominated the theme of the pedestal as Perseus in the pedestal acts as an allegory to Duke Francesco Medici.
The politics of the Medici and Florence dominate the Piazza della Signoria, specifically referencing the first three Florentine dukes. Duke Alessandro I was the first Florentine duke and Hercules and Cacus was revealed during his time and met with terrible reception by the public in 1534. The next sculpture to be revealed was Cellini’s Perseus and Cosimo I was very cautious about the public’s reaction to the piece. Thankfully, the public received the sculpture well as Cosimo watched the reception from a window in the Palazzo Vecchio. The third duke is directly related to the sculpture’s relief panel on the base as the Perseus can be seen as an allegory to Duke Francesco and Andromeda as his Habsburg bride, Giovanna. Similarly, Andromeda acts as an allegory to Florence, while Perseus is the collective Medici swooping down to save Florence. Cellini chose to represent the sad side of the story of Andromeda; however he drew focus to the Medici as Perseus saving the somber Andromeda. Every sculpture within the piazza responds politically or artistically to each other and the Medici.











The work

At the time of creating the sculpture bronze had not been used in almost half a century for a monumental work of art. Cellini made the conscious decision to work in this medium because pouring molten metal into his cast, he was vivifying the sculpture with life-giving blood. The most difficult part would be completing the entire cast all at once. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes was already placed within the Loggia dei Lanzi in the westernmost arch. While it was made out of bronze, Judith had been casted in several sections. Cellini was competing against monumental works, like Michelangelo’s David and wanted to make a statement for himself and the patron, Cosimo I.
Michael Cole specifically draws attention to the process of casting the Perseus. Citing Cellini’s Vita, Cole notes how Cellini’s assistants let the metal clot and had Cellini not been present the work would have been destroyed. Cole then asserts that Cellini goes beyond reviving the work, but raised the dead, in which he means that Cellini’s salvation was remelting the bronze. Cellini also invokes Christ and by doing so he breathes life into the sculpture. Casting the Perseus was more than meeting the demand of Cosimo I; Cellini was proving himself to Florence in a newly refurbished medium.
Cellini’s crowning work was Perseus. Cellini completed it with two different ideals in mind. He wanted to respond to the sculpture already placed within the piazza, which he did with the subject matter of Medusa reducing men to stone. Secondly, the Medici were represented by Perseus and the subject matter achieved that in the round sculpture and the relief below. Moreover in that respect, Cellini also made a statement for himself in the actual casting of Perseus. Cellini gave life with his new sculpture in his use of bronze and asserted the Medician control over the Florentine people through the Perseus motif.









- Il Perseo del Cellini nasconde un'altra opera
Per scoprirla basta mettersi alle spalle della statua e osservarne la parte posteriore: alla giuntura della nuca e sul retro dell'elmo infatti l'artista ha realizzato un impressionante effetto ottico, grazie al quale vi sembrerà di scorgere il volto di un uomo. Pare infatti che Benvenuto Cellini abbia voluto scolpire un suo autoritratto proprio sul retro del Perso, quell'opera straordinaria che tanta fatica gli costò.









Tra le statue presenti nella Loggia della Signoria o dei Lanzi, Perseo con la testa di Medusa nota anche come Perseo di Benvenuto Cellini 1500-1571 è probabilmente l'opera più importante e straordinaria dal punto di vista artistico e tecnico, considerata un capolavoro della scultura manierista italiana ed una delle statue più famose di Piazza della Signoria a Firenze. Collocata sotto la Loggia dei Lanzi, la scultura rappresenta Perseo in piedi sul corpo di Medusa, appena decapitata con la spada impugnata nella mano destra, mentre la sinistra solleva trionfante la testa del mostro tenuta per i capelli.
Posta su un alto piedistallo ornato da bellissimi bronzetti è stata ideata in modo da guardare in basso verso lo spettatore. Insieme al gruppo del ratto delle Sabine, del Giambologna, è l'unica statua conservata nelle Logge dell'Orcagna ad essere stata concepita espressamente per quella collocazione. Sulla nuca della statua, in posizione estremamente defilata, è presente un dolente autoritratto del Cellini. Il piedistallo, rimosso nel XX secolo e sostituito con una copia, è un capolavoro in sé: nella finezza dei piccoli bronzetti rappresentanti divinità connesse al mito di Perseo si manifesta tutta l'abilità del Cellini orefice nel lavoro in piccola scala. Commissionata da Cosimo I dopo il suo insediamento come Duca della città, fu realizzata tra il 1545-1554. La statua che si ammira oggi è quella originale ed è stata spostata solo in occasione di una profonda pulitura e restauro conclusosi nel 1998.

Il mito racconta come l'eroe greco riuscì a uccidere Medusa, l'unica mortale delle tre Gorgoni, esseri mostruosi con serpenti al posto dei capelli e lo sguardo pietrificante. Aiutandosi con uno scudo donatogli da Atena, Perseo riuscì nell'impresa, per poi donare la testa della gorgone alla divinità protettrice, che la pose sopra il suo scudo.
Alta 319 centimetri, la statua venne realizzata dall'artista fiorentino tra il 1545 al 1554, anno in cui venne presentata in piazza della Signoria, riscuotendo un grandissimo successo. Secondo le indagini condotte da Bruno Bearzi, la testa della Gorgone e il corpo di Perseo hanno due composizioni diverse: Medusa sarebbe composta da un 90% rame e  10% stagno, mentre l'eroe presenta 95.5% rame, 2.5% stagno, 1% piombo, 1% zinco.
La differenza è spiegata direttamente dal Cellini, che nella sua biografia racconta come, a causa delle enormi difficoltà incontrate nel corso della fusione dell'opera, decise di buttare nella fornace anche i suoi piatti e scodelle di stagno, per un totale di duecento pezzi. Pur avendo esibito un conto pari a 10.000 scudi, una cifra commisurata tanto alla  complessità della realizzazione quanto al magnifico risultato ottenuto, Cosimo I gliene pagò soltanto 3.500.