CELLINI, Benvenuto
(b. 1500, Firenze, d. 1571, Firenze)

Perseus with the Head of Medusa

1545-54
Bronze, height 550 cm
Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence

Cellini's work in bronze is much more interesting than his work in marble, and this is clearly demonstrated by Perseus with the Head of Medusa. His posthumous fame is largely linked to this statue and to the passionate description of its casting that appears in Vasari's Vita; this account of its genesis makes it one of the best-documented sculptures of the Italian Renaissance. Unlike his work on a smaller scale, the Perseus, designed to be set up in the Piazza della Signoria between Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes, was from the outset, and remains, a public work.

The ensemble consists of the figure of Perseus, standing triumphant and holding the head of Medusa aloft; the Gorgon's decapitated body lies on the base, which is raised on a marble pedestal, a kind of Mannerist reinterpretation of an antique altar. Out of the sides of the pedestal are hollowed four niches in which stand bronze statuettes of Mercury, Danaë, Jupiter and Minerva. There is also a rectangular, inset, bronze relief of Perseus Freeing Andromeda (all these subsiduary works now Florence, Bargello; replaced with copies).

The Perseus was transported to the Piazza in the summer of 1553 and, without having received its finishing touches, was unveiled in April the following year, provoking reactions of great enthusiasm and the writing of sonnets in its praise by Benedetto Varchi and Bronzino, among others.