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Grant number like: FA-55413-10

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Thomas C. Willette
Regents of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1382)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2010 – 12/31/2010

The "Life of Benvenuto Cellini": Art, Freemasonry, and Clandestine Publishing in the 18th Century

The Life of Benvenuto Cellini is essential reading for students of Italian culture of the 16th century, yet the book was scarcely known before the 18th. My project is the first comprehensive study of how the Life came to be written, how it was published, and what it meant to its first readers. Evidence of reception, in manuscript and in print, sheds light on the changing status of literary autobiography between Cellini's time and 1730 when the text was published. My account of its editing and clandestine printing offers rare documentation of how publishers at the time sought to avoid outright prohibition of potentially offensive books. The embrace of Cellini by Freemasons explains why the text was soon translated into English and French, and why Goethe created a version in German. Its reception as Enlightenment literature suggests that readers envisioned the Renaissance court artist as a craftsman-hero and exemplar of natural merit striving against conventional privilege.