A «Festschrift» in Honor of Professor Edward J. Olszewski
Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa: The Public Face of Justice in Medicean Florence CHRISTINE CORRETTI 123
Christine Corretti Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa: The Public Face of Justice in Medicean Florence Like Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (c.1460, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence), Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa (1545-1555, Loggia dei Lanzi, fig. 1) for Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici of Florence (r.1537-1574) im- plies a threat of execution by decapitation. The viewer standing beneath the Gorgon’s body lying upon Athena’s shield and under the hero’s feet receives the impression that the sword Perseus used to decapitate Medusa is about to alight upon his/her head (fig. 2). The ancient Greek hero appears to watch for the spectator’s reaction to that threat. Cellini’s actualization of Perseus’ de- struction of Medusa must have been most menacing in light of the fact that when Cosimo’s bronze sculpture was unveiled in 1555 the Loggia dei Lanzi was still used for executions, just as it had provided a setting for the behead- ing of victims of the Battle of Montemurlo (1537). Cellini’s sculpture com- memorates this glorious event of utmost importance to Cosimo’s defeat of the republicans and therefore to his rise to power.1 The Perseus testifies to the fact that ducal manipulation of Florence’s judicial system was vital to the formation of Cosimo’s absolutist state, for through that system the Medici ruler could impose his will on his constituents in the name of political and social cohesion. In this context, the heterogeneity of the Tuscan state re- quired the strictest measures. However, despite the duke’s tremendous effort to control Florentines, Cosimo’s authority was...
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