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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. When Machiavelli introduced in the Prince the mindset of a powerful leader, The Courtier was a primer for the manners and conduct of the nobles of his court. 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; the author himself portrayed Raphael in his writings.

"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. Cristoforo followed the young Marquis Francesco Gorzaga in his campaigns and was severely wounded in the battle of Taro. He never fully recovered from his injuries.

Castiglione was educated in Latin by Giorgio Merula and in Greek by the humanist Demetrius Chalcondyles. His favorite prose writer was Cicero; Virgil and Tibullus were his models as poets. At the court on Ludovico Sforza in Milan he received knightly training, learning how to handle the lance, and ride at the ring. Castiglione excelled in horsemanship, but he outshone everybody in the art of pleasing. 

After his father died and the Sforzas were expelled, Castiglione served the Marquis of Mantua, and saw action against the Spanish at the Battle of the Garigliano (1503). He then entered the servive of the dukes of Urbino and was sent in 1505 as an envoy to Henry VII of England. With him he carried gifts for the King– falcons, horses, and a painting by Raphael. While in Bologna, Castiglione met the King of France. He remained at the court of Urbino until 1513. A good deal of his time Castiglione spent in Rome as ambassador.

Following the death of the Duke, Castiglione served Francesco Maria della Rovere, the nephew of the warrior Pope Julius II. Castiglione own military career was undistinguished, although he was present at some battles. The earliest plans for the Courtier date from around 1508. 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." Moreover, they both insisted on the importance of studying antiquity and preserving classical ruins and statues. In their famous letter to Pope Leo X (c. 1519) concerning the ancient monuments in Rome, they complain of how the once great city of Rome has been renewed: "this entirely new Rome that can be seen today – grand, beautiful and marvellously ornamented with palaces, churches and other buildings though it may be – is built using mortar from ancient marbles." ('The Letter to Leo X by Raphael and Baldassare Castiglione,' in Palladio's Rome: A Translation of Andrea Palladio's Two Guidebooks to Rome by Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks, 2006, p. 180)

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. While waiting her  husband to return home, she wrote him long letters. Ippolita died in 1520 after giving birth to their third child. At that time Castiglione was in Rome, where he dined with Pope Leo and advocated Raphael's projects.

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. During this period he possibly begun plans for his own funerary chapel. Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici) sent Castiglione in 1524 as a papal ambassador, or nuncio Spain, where he was welcomed by Emperor Charles V. According to some sources, Castiglione had visited Spain for the first time in 1519. He loved the country so much that  in the Courtier he declared himself no less Spanish than Italian.

The Emperor valued highly Castiglione, but he was no longer willing to submit to the intrigues of the Pope and the French king Francis I. In 1527 twelve thousand mercenaries with the army under Constable of Bourbon invaded Rome and eight days later left the city in ruins. At that time Castiglione was still in Spain; he did not foresee the sack of Rome. As a result, Castiglione became the object of suspicion and anger of the Holy Chair. "I trusted too much in the Emperor's promises," he explained in a letter to Rome. The break with Pope depressed him deeply. All his attempts to keep the peace between the Emperor and the Pope had been fruitless.

When Alfonso de Valdés, secretary to Charles V, argued in Dialogue of Lactancio and an Archdeacon (1528) that the destruction of Rome was God's punishment, Castiglione responded with a letter in which he accused Valdés of heresy. ". . . this Christian nation hates the name of heretic. Go, then, to Germany, where your "Dialogue" has prepared the way for you," Castiglione declared. (Baldassare Castiglione: The Perfect Courtier, His Life and Letters, 1478-1529, Vol. II, by Julia Mary Ady, 1908, p. 406)

Castiglione died in Toledo, Spain, on February 2, 1529, following a sudden illness. "I tell you one of the finest gentlemen in the world is dead," said Charles V after the funeral. Castiglione was first buried in the Cathedral of Toledo, from where his body was removed to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Mantua. He was reburied together with his wife. 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, printed in Venice, 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 (by Sir Thomas Hoby, 1561). Especially in England the book influenced the idea of a gentleman;  Shakespeare was possibly familiar with it. Hoby's translation, printed  at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign,became very popular, and was republished several times and reprinted in 1900 with an introduction by Professor  Walter Raleigh. Castiglione's Spanish translator, Juan Boscán Almogáver, was said to have known the author personally.  Charles V kept a copy of the  work by his bedside.

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." Both Macchiavelli's Prince and Castignione's Courtier were motivated by self-interest. Jacob Burckhardt said in his analysis of the courtier, that the "inner impulse which inspired him was directed, though our author does not acknowledge the fact, not to the service of the prince, but to his own perfection." (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt, first published in 1878; 2014, p. 329)

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. One of Castiglione's models was Cicero's De oratore, but the Courtier also displays his knowledge of Platonic dialogue. 

For further reading: Baldassare Castiglione: The Perfect Courtier, His Life and Letters, 1478-1529 by Julia Mary Ady (2 vols., 1908); Man of the Renaissance by Ralph Roeder (1933); Castiglione: the Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture, edited by Robert W. Hanning and David Rosand (1983); 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); 'Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529)' by Julia Conaway Bondanella, in Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies 1, edited Gaetana Marrone (2007); 'Life guides, social negotiation and conduct books' in Renaissance Poetry and Prose by June Waudby (2010); The Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione & the Madonna dell'Impannata Northwick: Two Studies on Raphael by Jürg Meyer zur Capellen and Claudio Falcucci (2011) - Suomeksi Hovimies ilmestyi J.A. Hollon kääntämänä vuonna 1957. Käännös pohjautui Vittorio Cian'in toimittamaan kommentaareilla varustettuun tekstijulkaisun neljänteen painokseen vuodelta 1947. 

Selected works:

  •  Lettera a Leone X, 1519 (with Raphael, first published in Opere volgari, 1733)
    - 'The Letter to Leo X by Raphael and Baldassare Castiglione' (in Palladio's Rome: A Translation of Andrea Palladio's Two Guidebooks to Rome by Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks, 2006)
  • 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 (edited by Antonio Gio and Gaetano Volpi)
  • Lettere, 1769-71 (2 vols., edited by Pierantonio Serassi)
  • Opere di Baldassarre Castiglione e Giovanni Della Casa, 1937 (edited by Giuseppe Pressolini)
  • Opere di Baldassare Castiglione, Giovanni Della Casa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1960 (edited by Carlo Cordié)
  • Libro del cortegiano con una scelta delle opere minori di Baldesar Castigione, 1964 (edited by Bruno Maier)
  • Lettere inedite o rare, 1969 (edited by Guglielmo Gorini)
  • Tutte le opere, 1978 (edited by Guido La Rocca)
  • Le Lettere. Tomo Primo, 1978 (edited by Guido La Rocca)
  • Vita di Guidubaldo, Duca di Urbino, 2006 (edited by Uberto Motta)

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