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Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529) - conte di Novilara


Italian humanist, diplomat and courtier, famous for his Il Libro del Cortegiano  (1528, The Book of the Courtier), which was translated into many languages and made Castiglione the arbiter of aristocratic manners during the Renaissance. Castiglione demanded, that one should preserve one's composure and self-control under all circumstances and behave in company with an unaffected nonchalance and effortless dignity. Castiglione wrote also Italian and Latin poems, and many letters illustrating political and literary history. Among his friends was the famous painter Raphael, who made a portrait of Castiglione in 1514-15.

"Voglio adunque che questo nostro cortegiano sia nato nobile e di generosa famiglia; perché molto men si disdice ad un ignobile mancar di far operazioni virtuose, che ad uno nobile, il qual se desvia dal camino dei sui antecessori, macula il nome della famiglia e non solamente non acquista, ma perde il già acquistato; perché la nobiltà è quasi una chiara lampa, che manifesta e fa veder l'opere bone e le male ed accende e sprona alla virtú cosí col timor d'infamia, come ancor con la speranza di laude; e non scoprendo questo splendor di nobiltà l'opere degli ignobili, essi mancano dello stimulo e del timore di quella infamia, né par loro d'esser obligati passar piú avanti di quello che fatto abbiano i sui antecessori; ed ai nobili par biasimo non giunger almeno al termine da' sui primi mostratogli." (in Il libro del Cortegiano)

Baldassare Castiglione was born in Casatico, near Mantua, into an illustrious Lombard family. His parents were Count Cristoforo Castiglione and Luigia Gonzaga; she was related to the Marquess of Mantua. Castiglione was educated in Latin by Giorgio Merula and in Greek by Demetrios Chalcondykas. At the court on Ludovico Sforza in Milan he received knightly training. After his father died and the Sforzas were expelled, he served Francesco Conzaga, Marquess of Mantua, and fought against the Spains in 1503 with troops owned by Naples. In Rome he met the Duke of Urbino and was sent by him in 1505 as an envoy to Henry VII of England, who made him a knight. In 1507 he joined the court of Urbino, and remained there until 1513. He made a journey to England in 1506, meeting Henry VII. After the death of the Duke, he served Francesco Maria della Rovere, the nephew of the warrior Pope Julius II. Castiglione also took part in various Italian wars. During these years he wrote The Courtier. Francesco became one of the figures in the book - he was nephew of the pope, Lord General at the age of 17. Although he had just lost a battle, the other speakers in the book listen him with respect.

During the reign of the Medici Pope, Leo X, Castiglione met Raphael and became friends with him. Castiglione's ideal artist was a person, who performed all his work as if he did it with ease. "Therefore we may call that art true art which does not seem to be art: nor must one be more careful of anything than of concealing, because it it is discovered, this robs a man all credit and causes him to be held in slight esteem." Castiglione considered the figures like Leonardo and Raphael the natural peers of poets, and Raphael himself had produced poems. Thus his portrait of Castiglione also witnesses their friendship. Rembrandt saw the work in 1639 and sketched it, when it was for sale at Lucas Uffelen's estate. It was bought by Alphonse Lopez, a Portuguese Jew who had made a fortune in diamonds.

After returning home to Mantua in 1516, Castiglione married Ippolita Torelli, daughter of Count Guido Torello di Montechiarugolo and Francesca Bentivoglio, a daughter of the former ruler of Bologna. Ippolita died in 1520 after giving birth to their third child. At that time Castiglione was in Rome. In her last letter Ippolita wrote: " I have given birth to a little girl. I do not think you will mind this. But I have been much worse than I was before. What I told you has come true, and I have had three bad attacks of fever. Now I am a good deal better, and I hope it will not return  again. I will not try to say any more, because I am  not very well yet, but commend myself with my whole heart to you."

In addition, Castiglione's life was shadowed by the death of Raphael in 1520 and his failure as a diplomat. Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici) sent Castiglione in 1524 to Spain as ambassador. However, Emperor Charles V of Spain was no longer willing to submit to the intrigues of the Pope. In 1527 twelve thousand mercenaries with the army under Constable of Bourbon invaded Rome and eight days later left it in ruins. Pope accused Castiglione, who did not inform of the attack. Castiglione's break with the Pope depressed him deeply.

Castiglione died in Toledo, Spain, on February 2, 1529. He was first buried in the Cathedral of Toledo, from where his body was removed to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Mantua. Castiglione's tomb was designed by his architect friend Giulio Romano, Bembo composed a Latin epitaph on the marble. The first (Aldine) edition of The Courtier consisted of one thousand and thirty-one copies. The book was soon translated into Spain (1534), Latin (1538, at least two translations), German (1560), and English (1561). Especially in England the book influenced the idea of a gentleman. The earliest translation made by Sir Thomas Hoby became very popular. It was republished several times and reprinted in 1900 with an introduction by Walter Raleigh. Castiglione's Spanish translator, Juan Boscán Almogáver, was said to have known the author personally.

In opposition to Niccolò Machiavelli's (1469-1527) bleak vision on how people really act and think, Castiglione was interested in defining the rules for how gentlemen should behave. However, his idea of court life and social culture differed much from medieval chivalry. "Everything that men can understand, can also be understood by women", he wrote without the woman-worship of the knights. The cultural importance of women was exemplified by such figures as Lucrezia Borgia, who kept court in Nepi, and Isabella d'Este, who was the centre of the court in Ferrara and Matua. What Castiglione demanded of the perfect man of the world was versatility, the uniform development of physical and spiritual capacities, skill both in the use of weapons and in the art of refined social intercourse, experience in the arts of poetry and music, familiarity with painting and the sciences. The courtier should never appear studied and laborious. It is a social ease that conceals the laborious efforts it takes to acquire polite manners. It is a "nonchalance of movement and action."

The Courtier 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. 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.

For further reading: Baldassare Castiglione: The Perfect Courtier, His Life and Letters, 1478-1529 by Julia Mary Ady (1927); The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto by Valeria Finucci (1992); The Economy of Human Relations: Castiglione's Libro Del Cortegiano by Joseph D. Falvo (1992); The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione's Cortegiano by Peter Burke (1996); Elyot, Castiglione, and the Problem of Style by Teresa Kennedy (1997); Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Political Approaches in Renaissance Platonism by Christine Raffini (1998); The Absence of Grace: Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Renaissance Courtesy Books by Harry Berger, Jr. (2000); Donne, Castiglione and the Poetry of Courtliness by Peter Desa Wiggins (2001) - Suomeksi Hovimies ilmestyi J.A. Hollon kääntämänä vuonna 1957. Käännös pohjautui Vittorio Cian'in toimittamaan kommentaareilla varustettuun tekstijulkaisun neljänteen painokseen vuodelta 1947. 

Selected works:

  •  Il Libro del Cortegiano, 1528
    - The Book of the Courtier (translators: Sir Thomas Hoby, 1561, ed. Walter Raleigh, 1900; Robert Peterson, 1576; Leonard Eckstein Opdycke, 1903; Charles S. Singleton, 1959, ed. Daniel Javitch, 2002; Friench Simpson, 1959; George Bull, 1967)
    - Hovimies (suom. J. A. Hollo, 1957)
  • Il tirsi, 1553 (play)
  • Opere volgari, e latine del conte Baldessar Castiglione, 1733 (ed. Antonio Gio and Gaetano Volpi)
  • Lettere, 1769-71 (2 vols.)
  • Opere di Baldassarre Castiglione e Giovanni Della Casa, 1937 (ed. Giuseppe Pressolini)
  • Opere di Baldassare Castiglione, Giovanni Della Casa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1960 (ed. Carlo Cordié)
  • Lettere inedite o rari, 1969 (ed. Guglielmo Gorini)
  • Tutte le opere, 1978 (ed. Guido La Rocca)
  • Vita di Guidubaldo, Duca di Urbino, 2006 (ed. Uberto Motta)

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