SEE ALSO The Borgias Home Page I Renaissance Literature and Poetry I 15th Century Italy I The Discussion Forum
Baldassare Castiglione was born in Casatico, near Mantua. After receiving a classic education and knightly training at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan, owing to his father's death in 1499, he left the Sforza court 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 of Montefeltro, 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 6 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 V was said to have called him "one of the best knights" in the world.
His fame, however, mainly rests on his "II libro del Cortegiano" (The Book of the Courtier), a work in four books, describing the accomplishments and moral character of the ideal courtier. He began writing it in 1514 and finished it four years later, but polished its style so elaborately as to delay its publication until 1528, one year before his death. A truly representative son of the Renaissance, he exhibited in his "The Book of the Courtier" brilliant classical scholarship and exquisite taste, combined with a keen spirit of observation and noble conceptions. As a result, "Il libro del Cortegiano" gradually acquired a world-wide reputation, and was translated into a dozen languages, including Japanese.
Baldassare's minor works are less known, yet still interesting, including love sonnets and four Amorose canzani which he wrote about his platonic love for Elisabetta Gonzaga, in the style of Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and Pietro Bembo. His sonnet Superbi calli e voi, sacre ruine, written more by the man of letters than by the poet in Castiglione still contains a pre-romantic inspiration.
Baldassare also produced a number of Latin poems, together with a elegy for the death of Raphael De morte Raphaellis pictoris and another elegy in which he imagined his dead wife - Ippolita Torelli was waiting for him. In Italian prose he wrote a prologue for Bibbiliena's Calendria.
His letters are another, perhaps greater point of interest, describing not only the man and his personality but also details about the famous people he met and visited or about his diplomatic activities, they are considered a very important source of political, literary and historical studies.
At the age of 50 Baldassare died of a violent fever on 2 February 1529, in Toledo, Spain.
by Baldissare Castiglione
Matteo Maria Boiardo
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
Count of Novilara
Born 6 December 1478 in Casatica near Mantua
Died 2 February 1529 in Toledo, Spain
Baldassare was a Italian Courtier, Diplomat, Soldier and Author. His book "II libro del Cortegiano" - The Book of the Courtier - is his most famous work and a nostalgic recreation of Castiglione's experience at the Duke of Urbino's court.
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro
1472 - 1508
"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."
The Book of the Courtier
'Raphael' Self Portrait
1504 - 1506