By Maggie Bell
The humanist author and diplomat Baldassarre Castiglione died on February 2, 1529. Born in Mantua in 1478, Baldassarre came from a distinguished family (his mother was a Gonzaga), and from an early age received a rigorous humanist education. Later, he served in several courts, including that of Ludovico il Moro, Francesco Gonzaga, and Guidobaldo da Montefeltro in Urbino, for whom he was an ambassador to Rome.
It was during his years in Urbino (1504-1513) that Baldassarre drafted his most well-known literary work, The Book of the Courtier, which was ultimately published in 1528. Taking the form of a witty conversation, this text describes the complex behaviors and mannerisms necessary for being successful a courtier. At its heart is the notion of sprezzatura, or “studied carelessness”, in which one’s gentility and sophistication appears effortless, but is in fact carefully studied. Baldassarre himself embodies the confidence of a well-practiced courtier in Raphael’s portrait of 1514.
The Courtier has played a central role in understanding Renaissance conceptions of the self in literary and art historical studies. Baldassarre addresses the relationship between an interior and exterior life, and the nuanced machinations involved in fashioning ones identity.
CASTIGLIONE, Baldassare. Treccani Online. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Porter, Roy. Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present. London: Routledge, 1997.
Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, Portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione, 1514-1515, Louvre.
Later edition of Baldassarre Castiglione’s The Courtier, originally published in Venice in 1528.