Travel to the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, and you will be treated to an astonishing exhibition of Renaissance art. That’s because the square has a sizable collection of priceless statues including Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna and the Medici lions. However, the statue that garners the most attention is, without a doubt, Cellini’s masterpiece, Perseus with the Head of Medusa.
The name of the artwork is pretty self-explanatory. Cellini depicts a triumphant Perseus lifting Medusa’s head in the air, her lifeless body by his feet. The story is a popular one in Greek mythology that still resonates with the public to this day. The statue was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici when he became grand duke and was unveiled to the public in 1554. Back then, Perseus shared the piazza with the aforementioned Hercules statue, Michelangelo’s David, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes. However, while Michelangelo and Donatello’s statues were taken to museums and copies put in place, the original Perseus stayed in the square for almost 500 years, only being covered briefly for restorations.
Cellini found an odd way to sign his work (besides putting his name on Perseus’s sash). If you look at Perseus’s head from the back, you can see that his helmet and his hair form a face and a beard. Although not a perfect likeness, many agree that Cellini sculpted himself in the back of his hero’s head.