Benvenuto Cellini (1500–71), the renowned goldsmith and sculptor of the late Renaissance in Italy, claimed in his autobiography that he directed artillery fire at rain clouds, thus stopping the rain. The occasion was the festive entrance into Rome (on 3 November 1538) of the Duchess Margaret of Austria, natural daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, who was also King of Spain Charles V. She came to Rome to be wedded to the grandson of the reigning Pontiff, Paul III.
Since Cellini tended to be boastful, we checked three independent contemporary sources describing Margaret's reception. None of the three mentions firing at clouds; they do not even say that there was rain on that day. It must be added, however, that all three accounts are very brief, and that in the past, records of events usually put emphasis on actions of rulers and other important personages, paying little attention to environmental (and even to social) conditions. Thus, the most that we can say in regard of Cellini's claim is that we cannot corroborate his assertion of firing at clouds.
Attention is drawn also to Cellini's excellent description of a phenomenon in atmospheric optics, viz. that of the “Heiligenschein” (of the “wet” type). Cicely M. Botley points out that this phenomenon was described by Cellini 250 years before the first scientific presentation of the observation.
1 Institute of History, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
2 Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.