Drawing Comparisons: Cellini’s Perseus Liberating Andromeda and the Paragone Debate

Gwendolyn Trottein

Abstract


The subject of this analysis is Perseus Liberating Andromeda, the bronze relief which forms an integral part of the ensemble sculpted between 1545 and 1554 by Benvenuto Cellini for the Loggia dei Lanzi of Florence. This relief, added toward the project's end, affords the key to the theoretical and polemical significance of the colossal Perseus mounted on its ornate base. Framed in marble like a picture below the sculpted monument, Perseus Liberating Andromeda introduces the knowledgeable spectator into the Renaissance quarrel over the respective merit of the arts, the famous paragone debate. However the relief does not limit itself to merely evoking this debate, nor does it serve solely to affirm the inferiority of painting compared to sculpture. The mysterious, flattened nude at the center of the relief functions as an agent provocateur launching a comparison between shallow relief sculpture, which resembles drawing, and sculpture with greater depth like that of the figure of Andromeda nearby. Unflattering for the two-dimensional arts, this comparison also concerns architecture, understood by Cellini as an art of the surface related to drawing and perspective. For the goldsmith-sculptor Cellini, both painting and architecture prove their excellence insofar as they are able to liberate human beauty in its plasticity from the constraints of surface and plane. Literally and figuratively chained to the wall, his Andromeda in relief illustrates to be sure the highest level of painting, but at the same time the impotence and limitations of that feminine art. Although Cellini's autobiography and theoretical writings would reaffirm the preeminence of sculpture in the round over the other arts, it was first necessary to demonstrate this superiority without recourse to words, and thus to another art form: provided it is considered as an ensemble, this is what the Perseus monument makes systematically visible.

Keywords


Benvenuto Cellini; Liberation of Andromeda; Perseus and Medusa; Florentine sculpture; 16th century Italian sculpture; paragone debate; Sculpture versus Painting; Sculpture versus Architecture; Renaissance art theory; Cellini's art theory

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