The Buonarroti Simoni, to whom Michelangelo belonged, were a Florentine family of ancient burgher nobility. Their arms appear to have been originally "azure two bends or." To this coat was added "a label of four points gules inclosing three fleur-de-lys or." That augmentation, adopted from the shield of Charles of Anjou, occurs upon the scutcheons of many Guelf houses and cities. In the case of the Florentine Simoni, it may be ascribed to the period when Buonarrota di Simone Simoni held office as a captain of the Guelf party (1392). Such, then, was the paternal coat borne by the subject of this Memoir. His brother Buonarroto received a further augmentation in 1515 from Leo X., to wit: "upon a chief or, a pellet azure charged with fleur-de-lys or, between the capital letters L. and X." At the same time he was created Count Palatine. The old and simple bearing of the two bends was then crowded down into the extreme base of the shield, while the Angevine label found room beneath the chief. According to a vague tradition, the Simoni drew their blood from the high and puissant Counts of Canossa.
Benvenuto Cellini was a celebrated Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith; a passionate craftsman who was admired and resented by the most powerful political and artistic personalities in sixteenth-century Florence, Rome and Paris. He was also a murderer and a braggart, a shameless adventurer who at different times experienced both papal persecution and imprisonment, and the adulation of the royal court. Inn-keepers and prostitutes, kings and cardinals, artists and soldiers rub shoulders in the pages of his notorious autobiography: a vivid portrait of the manners and morals of both the rulers of the day and of their subjects. Written with supreme powers of invective and an irrepressible sense of humor, this is an unrivalled glimpse into the palaces and prisons of the Italy of Michelangelo and the Medici.
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When we try to picture to ourselves the intellectual and moral state of Europe in the Middle Ages, some fixed and almost stereotyped ideas immediately suggest themselves. We think of the nations immersed in a gross mental lethargy; passively witnessing the gradual extinction of arts and sciences which Greece and Rome had splendidly inaugurated; allowing libraries and monuments of antique civilisation to crumble into dust; while they trembled under a dull and brooding terror of coming judgment, shrank from natural enjoyment as from deadly sin, or yielded themselves with brutal eagerness to the satisfaction of vulgar appetites. Preoccupation with the other world in this long period weakens man's hold upon the things that make his life desirable. Philosophy is sunk in the slough of ignorant, perversely subtle disputation upon subjects destitute of actuality. Theological fanaticism has extinguished liberal studies and the gropings of the reason after truth in positive experience. Society lies prostrate under the heel of tyrannous orthodoxy. We discern men in masses, aggregations, classes, guilds—everywhere the genus and the species of humanity, rarely and by luminous exception individuals and persons. Universal ideals of Church and Empire clog and confuse the nascent nationalities. Prolonged habits, of extra-mundane contemplation, combined with the decay of real knowledge, volatilise the thoughts and aspirations of the best and wisest into dreamy unrealities, giving a false air of mysticism to love, shrouding art in allegory, reducing the interpretation of texts to an exercise of idle ingenuity, and the study of Nature (in Bestiaries, Lapidaries, and the like) to an insane system of grotesque and pious quibbling. The conception of man's fall and of the incurable badness of this world bears poisonous fruit of cynicism and asceticism, that twofold bitter almond, hidden in the harsh monastic shell. The devil has become God upon this earth, and God's eternal jailer in the next world.
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