Baldassare Castiglione, Boulevardier ~ “Don’t Be Disgusting!”

by Kim Steele

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione,  by Raphael

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, by Raphael

“Practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.”

~Baldassare Castiglione


Some of my favorite animals on earth are Italian. Food for thought…

From New Advent: Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian prose-writer, born at Casatico, near Mantua, 6 December, 1478; died at Toledo, Spain, 7 February, 1529. After receiving a classical education at Milan, he went to the court of Ludovico il Moro. Soon, however, owing to his father’s death in 1499, he left the Sforza and became a retainer of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. In September, 1504, Urbino became his new residence, and here, in the service of Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, where he spent the best years of his life. The splendour of the Montefeltro court was such as to attract thither the most distinguished writers and artists of the time, and in their midst Castiglione, though engrossed in momentous affairs of state, drank at the fountain-head of art and literature. In 1513 Francesco Maria della Rovere, Guidobaldo’s successor, made him a count and later his ambassador to the Holy See. In 1524 Pope Clement VII sent him as a special envoy to Charles V, but, in spite of his good offices on behalf of the pontiff Rome was sacked on the 6th of May, 1527, and Clement made a captive. This melancholy event broke Castiglione in health and spirits and hastened his death. Great honours were paid to his memory, and Charles the Fifth was said to have called him “one of the best knights in the world”. His fame, however, mainly rests on his “Cortegiano” (Courtier), a work in four books, describing the accomplishments and moral character of the ideal courtier, Considered the definitive account of Renaissance court life, involving drama, ritual and conversational expertise. Wayne Rebhorn, a Castiglione scholar, states that the courtier’s speech and behavior in general is “designed to make people marvel at him, to transform himself into a beautiful spectacle for others to contemplate.” He began writing it in 1514 and finished it four years later. He polished its style so elaborately as to delay its publication until 1528 by by the Aldine Press in Venice, sadly one year before his death. A truly representative son of the Renaissance, he exhibited in his “Courtier” brilliant classical scholarship and exquisite taste, combined with a keen spirit of observation and noble conceptions Sprezzatura was a vital quality for a courtier to have. Courtiers essentially had to put on a performance for their peers and those who employed sprezzatura created the impression that they completely mastered the roles they played. In a way, sprezzatura was “the art of acting deviouslyRaphael’s painting (as seen above) can be found to differ primarily from its model by its unique awareness of the importance of sprezzatura. As a result, “Il Cortegiano” gradually acquired a world-wide reputation, and was translated into a dozen languages, including Japanese. The latest edition is that of Opdyke (New York, 1902). His many letters, in part unpublished, are of considerable importance.


Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, by Perugino

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, by Perugino



“Outward beauty is a true sign of inner goodness. This loveliness, indeed, is impressed upon the body in varying degrees as a token by which the soul can be recognized for what it is, just as with trees the beauty of the blossom testifies to the goodness of the fruit.”



“Who does not know that without women we can feel no content or satisfaction throughout this life of ours, which but for them would be rude and devoid of all sweetness and more savage than that of wild beasts? Who does not know that women alone banish from our hearts all vile and base thoughts, vexations, miseries, and those turbid melancholies that so often are their fellows?”


Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, by Titian

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, by Titian

















 “Men demonstrate their courage far more often in little things than in great.”

Il Libro del Cortegiano, del Conte Baldesar Castiglione:

Binding, Baldassare Castiglione’s “Courtier,”

Binding, Il Libro del Cortegiano, del Conte Baldesar Castiglione


“A fine literary description of The Courtier by Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen — “Consists of a series of dialogues, in which the speakers describe the ideal courtier: nobly born, skilled in military arts, sports, and dancing, well-educated in classical and modern languages, music and painting, and gracious in conversation. However, with all these skills he does everything with certain nonchalance. Castiglione uses the term sprezzatura the cultivated ability to “display artful artlessness” (see The Absence of Grace by Harry Berger, Jr.). The purpose of courtiers is to serve a prince and tell him the truth, but in The Courtier they don’t seem to do anything but chatter, well aware of the tension between the ideal and the real. This quality which Castiglione had in mind when he wrote: “Therefore we may call that art true at which does not seem to be art.”
“The speakers include Duchess Elisabetta (1471-1526), Signora Emilia Pia, a bright discussant, Madonna Constanza Fregosa, Francesco Maria della Rovere (1490-1538), a soldier and Prefetto di Roma, Count Ludovico da Canossa (1476-1532), who was a close friend of Castiglione and presented his ideas in discussions, Messer Federico (d. 1541), who was appointed cardinal in 1539, Signor Ottaviano (d. 1524), who did not think much of women, Magnifico Juliano on Giuliano de’ Medici (1479-1516), the son of Lorenza il Magnifico and friend of Leonardo da Vinci and Macchiavelli, Messer Bernardo (1470-1520), a writer and a cardinal, Messer Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), a philosopher and a poet, Messer Cesare (1475-1512), a soldier and a diplomat, Unico Arentino (1458-1535), a composer and governatore perpetuo, who saw himself as the third poet after Dante and Petrarca, Joanni Cristoforo (1465-1512) a sculptor, Messer Niccolo Frigio, a diplomat. The book was source of inspiration for such writers as Cervantes, Donne, Corneille, and Edmund Spenser. Castiglione’s concepts of proper behavior and gentleman (“superior man”) have much in common with Confucian views of virtuous men. Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) also advocated righteousness, loyalty, integrity, and reciprocity.”
Sophis Loren, reading

Sophia Loren, reading

In contemporary terms,  glamour originally was a term applied to a magical-occult spell cast on somebody to make them believe that something that the spellcaster wished them to believe, including inducing an interpersonal attraction. This is the ‘spell’ that The Courtier strove to achieve. In Hollywood, stars as far apart as Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni owned and acquired glamor, and the technological means and willingness to refine the beauty of it. Artful projection is casting a spell on the viewer, and is pursued to this day in film and photography.
Marcello Mastroianni

Marcello Mastroianni

This ‘technique’ provides the groundwork for today’s Boulevardiers, from Dandys to Diplomats. Giacomo Casanova refined this trait to a tee. He has become so famous for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women, by employing the Sprezzatura, that his name is now synonymous with “womanizer”. Referred to in illustrious terms: adventurer, confidence trickster and scallywag, he associated with European royalty, popes and cardinals, along with luminaries such as Voltaire, Goethe and Mozart. From Castiglione to Casanova…The Coutier personified.
Giacomo Casanova, portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs

Portrait of Giacomo Casanova, by Anton Raphael Mengs

Il Libro del Cortegiano, del Conte Baldesar Castiglione

Il Libro del Cortegiano, del Conte Baldesar Castiglione



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