Site Introduction | Art Gallery Index | View Pictures: Pre-restoration; Post-restoration
New right side image added July 1 2006
Benvenuto and welcome to this page about Cellini’s masterpiece, the larger-than-life bronze statue of Perseus with the Head of Medusa in the Loggia di Lanzi in Florence.
Cellini was, by his own humble admission, the finest goldsmith, craftsman and sculptor of his day. According to his Autobiography, the statue’s unveiling was met with torrents of praise (though we have only his word for just how much praise):
Now it pleased my glorious Lord and immortal God that at last I brought the whole work to completion: and on a certain Thursday morning [April 27, 1554] I exposed it to the public gaze. Immediately, before the sun was fully in the heavens, there assembled such a multitude of people that no words could describe them. All with one voice contended which should praise it most. The Duke was stationed at a window low upon the first floor of the palace, just above the entrance; there, half hidden, he heard everything the folk were saying of my statue. After listening through several hours, he rose so proud and happy in his heart that he turned to his attendant, Messer Sforza, and exclaimed: “Sforza, go and seek out Benvenuto; tell him from me that he has delighted me far more than I expected: say too that I shall reward him in a way which will astonish him; so bid him be of good courage.”
OK, so Cellini can hardly be accused of false modesty here, but the fact is that in the centuries since its unveiling, the Perseus has come to be regarded as one of the great works of high Renaissance art. If Donatello’s David was the greatest nude statue of the 15th Century, then Cellini’s Perseus may well be the greatest of the 16th, surpassing even Michelangelo’s mighty David. Here’s your chance to decide.
By the late 20th Century, 442 years of exposure to the elements had left the statue in a pretty horrible condition, streaked and encrusted with grime, bird droppings and pollution. It was obvious that something had to be done about it.
In late 1996 the statue was taken to the Uffizi museum for a thorough programme of cleaning and restoration. This was a slow, painstaking process, but the statue was returned to the square in plenty of time for Cellini’s 500th birthday in 2000.
Nowadays they allow all sorts of ruffians to wander around the city wielding digital cameras, and below you’ll find just a few of the pictures those cameras have obtained of the cleaned and restored statue.File size warning!
Some of these thumbnails link to ridiculously huge photos. That’s great because of their detail, but if you’re on dial-up you might want to think about calling your local cable company before attempting to view them.
Do you think he might be overcompensating for something with that sword?
Anyway, you’ll notice that from a certain angle the sword censors the statue’s genitalia (though to make up for it, you get a good view of his hip), so not surprisingly you tend to see a lot of pictures taken from that angle. These are the best ones I found. Also, at top left, a highly unusual back right view.
Across his chest and back Perseus is wearing a sash inscribed with the sculptor’s name and the date of the statue’s casting. Of course that’s a complete paradox because, had Perseus been real, he couldn’t have known he was going to be sculpted by Cellini, or when; and even if he did, there was no way he could have been wearing something that had an inscription in Latin!
Good quality views of Perseus’s bottom are fairly rare, so enjoy. It’s just a pity that the two in the middle were taken while the building in the background was covered in scaffolding, obscuring the rather splendid architecture that can be seen in the left and right pictures.
First in this row, a dramatic low front view that emphasises the length of Perseus’ sword. Next: back views of the statue are almost nonexistent. Maybe there isn’t enough space behind it to get a decent full-length rear view, in which case the best you can probably hope for is something like the middle photo. It’s not only taken from a very low angle (talk about looking up an old friend) but the brightness has also been heavily adjusted, washing out the sky and building in the background.
Finally we have a literal two-header. This really is a HUGE photo, so if you don’t have broadband you might want to take the dog for a walk while the image is loading.
Some people find that the gory subject matter detracts from Perseus’ more sensual qualities, but I don’t really see it that way. True, that stuff beneath Medusa’s head is supposed to be blood, but from a distance it looks so abstract you can’t really tell what it is. It might just as well be ribbons, or even a bunch of grapes. Anyway, this view shows up fine details like Perseus’ eyebrows and the skin patterns on the snakes in Medusa’s hair. You can also see electric wires attached to their heads that are apparently intended to discourage birds from nesting there. I do feel a bit sorry for the poor birdies, but considering all the guano they deposited on the statue between 1554 and 1996 I probably shouldn’t.
Finally, just for a change of pace, here’s a colour pencil drawing of the statue by Rogue 5 on deviantART. Click twice for the full size version.
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