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Il Libro del Cortegiano

09212008 baldesar castiglione [web]


The Book of the Courtier

Copyright © 2008 Michael Johnathan McDonald

The Book of the Courtier


Il Libro del Cortegiano, 1528 [ finished final editing and additions in 1527]

Definition:  A series of dialogues in which the speakers describe the ideal of a courtier. This is the usual definition.  However these conversation involved a medium group of individuals, meaning it was a multilogue, literally.


Baldesar Castiglione (b. 1478) a member of an ancient Italian aristocratic family (Lombard). He received a thorough humanistic education, acquiring a refined appreciation of art. He was essentially a courtier, and his literary activities were spare-time occupations. In 1504, after an unhappy period in Mantuan employ, he entered the service of Guidobaldo of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino.”[1] Federico de  Montefeltro  (d. 1482, about late 60s when he dies) had been tied to the Potzzi conspiracy.  He gains status as a mercenary soldier. Technically he is a feudal subject to the papacy, but because of his military skills, he ends up having a duchy as a reward. Burckhardt will think of him as a despot or a tyrant, but we will think of him as a mercenary prince – these military princes for hire are major issues for Machiavelli, who also writes about the art of war as the central tenant. Military princes were forced to contend with the new humanist etiquette adopted by the more powerful princes and regional rulers. This meant that communication, or knowledge(s) will become as powerful, or even more powerful than ordinary military rulers. How to argue or persuade one’s political position, produce literary documents and communicate effectively and communicate effectively on a universally accepted medium of language (Latin, as the lingua franca) describes the rise and association of courtiers and military princes. In general, a military prince in the fifteenth century will employ about two humanists, one acting as secretary-poet, or in a relative capacity. Subjectively, someone was bound to model a universal man (or persons), and Castiglione holds true to this achievement. His work has been the model for centuries on what criteria forms a universal man (persons, as French adopted both sexes by at least nineteenth century). His book has gone through scores of editions. Subsequently, many interpretations and reformations particularly take affect according to region, time, adoption, and preference. Yet, here we will deal with the Italian Renaissance’s criteria and arguments for the standard Courtier.


“In April 1528 The Courtier was published.”[2] “Hardly a page of The Courtier turns without a bold plagiarism from Plato, Plutarch, Cicero or Livy.” [3] It is possible, too, to trace the influence of The Courtier on the aesthetic theory of the later Renaissance, and notably on the ideas of artistic grace, decorum and nonchalance expounded by the great art historian Giogio Vasari. Castiglione did make major contributions to several lively issues of his day and time: to the long and vehement debate, for example, about the need in  a divided country for a universal vernacular drawn from Italy’s several regional languages. None the less, even in these spheres, Castiglione’s contributions were not of long-term significance. When The Courtier was finally published, indeed, the world of ideas and institutions which it idealized was, as far as Italy was concerned, and as Castiglione well knew, buried in the past.” [4] “In 1590, with an exception made for the expurgated edition, The Courtier found its way on to the Index.” [5] Not until 1894, “records Castiglione’s English biographer, Julia Cartwright, that a correct version of Castiglione’s work form the original manuscript was finally edited by Professor Cian.” [6]


Short Synopsis of Biography

“Baldassare Castiglione was born in Casatico, near Mantua, into an illustrious Lombard family. He was educated in Latin and Greek and received knightly training at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan. He served Francesco Conzaga, Marquess of Mantua and fought against Spain 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 , who was the nephew of the warrior Pope Julius II, took part in various Italian wars, and wrote during these years the Courtiuer. During the reign of the Medici Pope, Leo X, Castiglione met Raphael and became friends with him. Castiglione’s idea artist was a person who performed all his works as if he did it with ease.”[7] He died in Toledo Spain, February 2nd, 1529, The Courtier was completed, with additions and editing, in 1527.



Short list: Courtier

  1. notably born

  2. skilled [virtue] in military arts

  3. sports

  4. dancing

  5. well-educated in classical and modern languages

  6. music and painting

  7. gracious in conversation

Do all these things with nonchalance.

Key Term: Sprezzatura (No! literal translation + many interpretations) Michael J McDonald -- Do not show off, but when asked to demonstrate ‘any’ skill, dominate your crowed/group/audience (and/or wow them) with composure/countenance by appearing to them that you had not practiced this skill before. This means you probably had spent most of your life for a single moment to demonstrate your mastery of a skill(s), in the company of others which would initially demonstrate your worth and value – leading to position or class-status by your demonstration.



The Book’s references to location.

Palace of Urbino

Montefeltro, Guidobaldo Da ( 1472-1508), the Duke of Urbino to whom the references in The Courtier are few and rather snide. He succeeded his father, the renowned Federico, in 1482, soldiered as a condottiere [mercenary soldier/prince] for the Church, but failed to live up to his father’s reputation. His marriage to Elizabetta being childless, in 1504 he adopted his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, as his heir. This was after the death of Alexander VI during whose reign Cesare Borgia had twice driven him out of Urbino not, it appears, altogether to the displeasure of the citizens.” [8]



Get-togethers took place after supper in Duchess Elisabetta’s room at the Urbino Court palace (Palace of Urbino) during successive evenings in March of 1507. “The previous autumn, the warrior Pope, Julius II, had visited the city on his way to attack Bologna in his campaign to reassert his authority over the papal dominions. On his expedition he was accompanied by Guidobaldo, who, however, was bedridden most of the time and played no part in the conquest. On his way back to Rome the Pope again stayed at Urbino, leaving on 5 March. As Castiglione records, several members of the papal entourage remained at Urbino for a while longer; and this was the occasion he chose for the conversations, when most of the people mentioned the The Courtier were, in fact, guests at the Palace.”[9]


Here is the list of characters that take part in the multilogues: Accolti, Bernardo (1458-1535), “better known by his nickname or nom de guerre of Unico Aretino, was the son of a well known lawyer and historian, Benedetto Accolti. He grew up in Florence and then embarked on the fashionable career of poet and extemporizer, visiting the Courts of Milan, Urbino, Mantua, Naples, Ferrara and notably Rome, where he was patronized by both Julius II and Leo X. His reputation in these noble circles was considerable, and he came to suppose himself, wrongly, as being on the same level as Petrarch and Dante.”[10]


Ariosto, Alfonzo (1475-1525), “a close friend of Castiglione and Bembo, and the man to whom The Courtier was originally dedicated. The son of a Bonifacio d’Aldobrandini, and a distant relation of the great poet, Ludovico Ariosto, he entered the service of the Este family at Ferrara early in life, and he may first have met Castiglione in Milan. He read the manuscript of The Courtier for Castiglione, and their friendship survived his pro-French proclivities.”[11]


Barletta is mentioned twice in The Courtier, where he is described as a fine musician and dancer. In a letter written by Castiglione in 1507 (to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este) Barletta was said to be the Duchess Elisabetta’s favorite musician.” [12]


Bembo, Pietro (1470-1547) came from an upper-class Venetian family, lived as a child in Florence, and acquired great facility in Latin, Greek and Tuscan. From 1506 for six years he was a member of the Court circle at Urbino, where he spent his time on linguistic studies and the enjoyment of a varied social life. In 1512 he moved to Rome, where Pope Leo X made him a papal secretary. Subsequently he retired to Padua. During these years he became famous as a literary pundit – insisting on Florentine as the norm and Petrarch and Bocaccio as the models of good writing – a poet, and courtier, his most notable works being the Asolani (1505) and the Prose della Volger Lingua (1525). Bembo was made a cardinal in 1539, and then spent most of his remaining years in Rome.”[13]


Calmeta (1460-1508) was the Court or pen-name of Vincenzo Collo, an indifferent poet with an ingratiating manner who found favour at the Courts of Milan, Mantua and , sometime after 1490, Urbino.”[14]


Canossa, Lodovico (1476-1532) came of a noble Veronese family, and was a friend and relation to Castiglione. He grew up in Mantua, spent some time – from 1496 – at the court of Urbino, and served as a diplomat in the service of the papacy and then of King Francis I, through whose influence he was made Bishop of Bayeux in 1516. He was a man of great culture and ability, a friend of Erasmus [he always remained a Catholic] and Raphael.”[15]


Ceva (Febus and Ghirardino) were two brothers of a noble Piedmontese family who during the early years of the sixteenth century served as mercenaries indiscriminately for either the French or the Emperor. They were notorious for their violence and brutality.”[16]


Dovizi, Bernardo (1470—1520) was better known  as Bibbiena. He was in the service of the Medici family and in particular attached himself to Giovanni de’ Medici who, after his election as Pope Leo X, made him Cardinal of S. Maria in Portico. His influencer on Leo was so considerable that he became known as ‘the other Pope’. He was a close friend of Castiglione and a patron of Raphael. His comedy La Calandria was first presented at Urbino, before the Duchess Elisabetta, with a prologue written by Castiglione.”[17]


Ettore, Romano, was (probably) the Giovenale Ettore who distinguished himself as one of the Italian champions in the famous combat between thirteen Italians and thirteen Frenchmen at Barletta in 1503, when the French were routed. He appears in The Courtier in the service of Francesco Maria della Rovere, Prefect of Rome and future Duke of Urbino.”[18]


Florido, Orazio came from Fano, served as chancellor to Duke Guidobaldo and stayed on in the service of Francesco Maria, to whom he remained commendably loyal after he had been driven from Urbino.” [19]


Fregoso, Costanza was received at Urbino after her family had been exiled from Genoa, since her mother, Gentile, was the natural daughter of Duke Federico. She married Count Marcantonio Landi of Piacenza. ” [20]


Fregoso, Federico, a distinguished courtier and diplomat, the brother of Costanza and Ottaviano, was the intimate friend of many contemporary men of letters, such as Bembo and Castiglione himself, a student of philology, and an expert in oriental languages. He was an active politician ( helping and then opposing his brother, Ottaviano, when the latter ruled Genoa) and a soldier. He was given the red hat by Pope Paul III in 1539, partly through the recommendation of Bembo.” [21]


Fregoso, Ottaviano (1470-1524) was politically the most outstanding member of his family. After being exiled from Genoa in 1479 he returned to Urbino, where he had spent several years in his youth. Francesco Maria della Rovere appointed him ambassador to France. Subsequently, after two abortive attempts to seize power in Genoa, he was elected Doge in 1513. He had to rely, however, on French protection, and when this failed, in 1522, he was taken prisoner ( after the sack of Genoa by Imperial troops) by the Marquis of Pescara and died in exile. ”[22]


Frisio, Orfrigio, Niccolò was a German who spent most of his life in Italy, where he became friendly with Castiglione and Bembo and acquired a reputation as a skilled diplomat and man of culture. In 1510 he retired to a monastery in Naples.” [23]


Giovan, Cristoforo Romano (c. 1465-1512) was a sculptor and medalist, given the task in The Courtier of expounding one of the favourite subjects of the Renaissance: the superiority of one kind of art over another ( and in this case, of sculpture over painting). He was also an accomplished musician, who probably first met Castiglione in Mantua in 1497 and is known to have visited Urbino in August 1506 and March 1507.” [24]


Gonzaga, Cesare (1475-1512) was a cousin of Castiglione and like him studied in Milan and served the Marquis of Mantua before entering the service of the rulers of Urbino as a soldier and diplomat. His relations with Bembo and Castiglione were very close and affectionate.” [25]


Gonzoga, Elisabetta (1471-1526), the second daughter of the Marquess Federico Gonzaga of Mantua, married Duke Guidobaldo in 1488 and earned great administration during twenty years of childless married life for her fortitude and virtue. In his edition of the Courtier Cian cites as an instance of the process of idealization by her admirers some verse by Castiglione describing her great beauty – rather in exaggerated terms to judge form her portrait in the Uffizi. After her widowhood and exile, she returned to Urbino in 1522 and there spent the remaining years of her life.” [26]


Gonzaga, Margherita was Elisabetta’s niece, and the natural daughter of the Marquess Francesco. She was reputed to be vivacious, gay and, according to Bembo, extremely witty. A marriage was planned for her in 1511 with Agostino Chigi, who creid off when he discovered that she was threatening to go into decline at the prospect of being tied to such an old man.” [27]


Mariano, Fra (1460-1531): a Florentine, Mariano Fetti entered the Medici service as a young man (he was Lorenzo’s barber), and in 1495 became a Dominican friar. The Medici Pope, Leo X, enjoyed his jolly company at Rome, and he was a talented buffoon and versifier.” [28]


Medici, Guiliano De’ (1479-1516) was the youngest of the children of the great Lorenzo de’ Medici and Clariice Orsini. He spent a good deal of time at Urbino after the exhile of the Medici from Florence in 1494. When they were restored to power, he became governor of Florence for a time before being called to Rome by his brother, Pope Leo X, and made a General of the Church. More of a courtier than a warrior, he sorely disappointed the Pope as a commander, lived a dissolute life, but was spoken well of Castiglione, had his portrait painted by Raphael, was immortalized in sculpture by Michelangelo, and but for his death would have had Machiavelli’s The Prince dedicated in his honour.”[29]


Monte, Pietro, a Court official, was probably the Pietro del Monte mentioned by the Venetian brave’ and ‘an experienced soldier as well as a man of the world’. For a time he was in the service of Duke Guidobaldo at Urbino, where he was Master of the House in charge of the tournaments.” [30]


Montefeltro, Guidobaldo Da ( 1472-1508), the Duke of Urbino to whom the references in The Courtier are few and rather snide. He succeeded his father, the renowned Federico, in 1482, soldiered as a condottiere [mercenary soldier/prince] for the Church, but failed to live up to his father’s reputation. His marriage to Elizabetta being childless, in 1504 he adopted his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, as his heir. This was after the death of Alexander VI during whose reign Cesare Borgia had twice driven him out of Urbino not, it appears, altogether to the displeasure of the citizens.” [31]


Morella da Ortona was probably a member of the Abruzzese family of Ricciardi. He served Guidobaldo vigorously as a soldier and , when past fighting, as a trusted retainer at Court, being a witness, for example, to the Instrument of Adoption of Francesco Maria della Rovere. He is the only old courtier portrayed by Castiglione, with a rather endearing tetchiness.” [32]


Pallavicino Gaspare (1486-1511) was one of the youngest (namely, twenty-one) of those taking part in the conversations. He was a Lombard, a descendant of the Marchesi of Cortemaggiore, near Piacenza. He died young after a life of constant illness.” [33]


Pietro Da Napoli makes only a brief appearance in The Courtier in order to tell a joke. He is mentioned elsewhere as one of the six men to accompany Pope Julius to Viterbo on his return from the Bologna expedition.” [34]


Pia, Emilia (d. 1528) was the daughter of Marco Pio of Carpi and Benedetto del Carretto, and the faithful companion of the Duchess of Urbino. She remained in Urbino with her children, Vernonica and Lodovico, after the death in 1500 of her husband, Antonio da Montefeltro (a natural brother of Guidobaldo). Like the Dutchess, on a less lofty plane, she was extoled as a model of virtue and gaiety.” [35]


Pio, Lodovico (d. 1512) was distantly related to Emilia. He probably first made freinds with Castiglione at the Court of Milan where he married one of Lodovico Il Moro’s maids of honour. He served as a papal captain with Castiglione, and in the end died of wounds received in battle.” [36]


Roberto Da Bari (d. 1512), another of Castiglione’s wide circle of devoted friends, belonged to the noble Massimi family of Bari. He was a clever mimic, a keen dancer and an extremely elegant courtier.” [37]


Rovere, Francesco Maria Della (1490-1538) spent his early youth in France. In 1504 Pope Julius II made him prefect of Rome, as which he appears in The Courtier, aged seventeen. Papal pressure won him the succession of Urbino and he served as a commander of the papal forces against Venice and subsequently against the French. During this period he stabbed to death Cardinal Francesco Alidosi, in revenge for the loss of Bologna (where Alidosi was Legate) for which Francesco Maria was blamed. After trial he was acquitted and restored to favour. In 1516, he was ignominiously driven from Urbino by Pope Leo X, who bestowed the Duchy on his won nephew, Lorenzo de’ Medici. After Leo’s death, Francesco Maria reconquered Urbino (the papal governor being thrown out of the palace windows as he stormed in) in 1522. He was an incapable Captain-General of the armies of the Church at the time of the sack of Rome. After his death, Urbino remained in the hands of the Rovere family until 1631, when it passed under the direct rule of the Papacy.” [38]


Serafino, Fra was probably born at Mantua and at any rate resided most of the time at the Gonzaga Court. He was a great traveler and correspondent and a frequent visitor to Urbino. His rather crude humour got him into trouble in Rome, in 1507, when he was assaulted because of his lack of respect for the Pope.” [39]


Silva, Michel de (c. 1480-1556), to whom The Courtier is dedicated, was Dom Miguel da Silva, son of the Count of Portalegre, a province of central Portugal. Castiglione knew him in Rome, at the Court of Leo X, and met him again in Seville. For some years, he represented the Portuguese king at the papal Court. In 1541 he was publically created a cardinal by Pope Paul III.” [40]


Terpandro was called Anton Maria and was probably a Roman who acquired his nickname in reference to the Greek poet and musician, Terpander of Lesbos. He was a good musician and singer, and a frequent visitor to Urbino during the reign of Julius II.” [41]

The Night’s Activity

Guidobaldo who in his youth became bedridden, one symptom known was gout, would retire to his chamber, but the other court and visitors immediately after dinner would dance, sing, or play games. These after supper meetings were attended by important and persons who lived at the court. The subjects of games were informal sensations with the intention for preference and argument.  Women and men seated between each other would take turns on proposing an information game. Out of these conversations revealed the attributes of the Courtier as argued by players of the games. Other topics included arguments for singularizing regional vernaculars or not. Somewhat like a Symposium, possibly optional drinking and inclusion of women, these after supper parties were recalled by Castiglione many years after the supposedly took place.



pp. 39 – 202


Courts of Princes


Federico de Montefeltro:  supposedly was seen ideality as a hero who had never lost a military battle. His life’s romantic success is the model for Castiglione ‘s military man – military prowess as part of the attributed for the makeup of the Courtier – e.g. some one who wins, is capable on the field, can handle different weapons, ride a horse, and is fit physically and mentally for combat.


  1. What Castiglione had witnessed around him that constructed his ideas?


Why are mercenary princes central to the renaissance? Because they end up embracing the ideas of the humanists and disciples, and they start to believe in the ability of the prince, not only in the ability to wage war, but to argue well, the art of knowledge.



Gonzoga, Elisabetta, wife of the Duke: signora Emilia Pia, always at the side of the Duchess.

What is the role of the women here, and the Duke is bedridden – s does this explain the role of women in princely courts? Why or why not? Why not a man running the after-supper festivities and pleasantries’? Castiglione makes an effort to communicate the women were equally involved, by his illustrating the seating arrangements in order of male then female, then male, then female, etc..., and as feasibly possible of including a gender representation in numbers of guests and court subjects? Why is this important? Each person takes turns in order (During suggestions of games), but one can interrupt the chain of position – just do it with decorum and politeness.

  • In the presence of the Dutchess, honour to be in the position of service to a ruler.

  • Games: polite conversations and innocent pleasantries.

  • Everyone considered that the most pleasurable thing possible was to please the Duchess.[42]

  • “The most decorous behavior proved compatible with the greatest freedom.” [43]

  • “So all day and everyday at the Court of Urbino was spent on honourable and pleasing activities both of the body and of the mind.” [44]



Everyone at the court strove to behave in such a way as to deserve to be judged worthy of the Duke’s noble company.” [45]



Music: Socrates, Plato & Aristotle intend a virtue for the soul is to play an intstrument or equivalent musicianship.


First Book

Second Book


[1] Castiglione, Baldesar, The Courtier, trans., George Bull ( England, Penguin Books; London: Clays Ltd, St Ives plc, 1967), p. 1.

[2] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 12.

[3] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 13.

[4] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 13.

[5] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Baldassare Castiglione [ summery biography] available from; Internet [ accessed September 2008].

[8] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 27.

[9] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 23.

[10] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 23.

[11] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 23.

[12] Ibid., The Courtier, pp. 23-24.

[13] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 24.

[14] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 24.

[15] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 24.

[16] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 24.

[17] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 25.

[18] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 25.

[19] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 25.

[20] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 25.

[21] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 25.

[22] Ibid., The Courtier, pp. 25-26.

[23] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 26.

[24] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 26.

[25] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 26.

[26] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 26.

[27] Ibid., The Courtier, pp. 26 - 27.

[28] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 27.

[29] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 27.

[30] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 27.

[31] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 27.

[32] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[33] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[34] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[35] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[36] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[37] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 28.

[38] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 29.

[39] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 29.

[40] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 29.

[41] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 29.

[42] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 43.

[43] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 43.

[44] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 43.

[45] Ibid., The Courtier, p. 42.





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