Baldassare Castiglione Biography


Baldassare Castiglione (kahs-teel-YOH-nay) might himself have served as the model for the ideal gentleman he portrays in his most famous work, The Book of the Courtier. One of the most highly respected diplomats of Renaissance Italy, he followed his dictum that the courtier’s chief function is to render service to his prince. He was also a minor poet and a friend of many of the great artists, philosophers, and literary figures of his time.

Castiglione, who was born near Mantua in 1478, studied Greek and Latin with noted humanists and, like many other boys of good families, was sent to court to broaden his education under Lodovico Sforza, duke of Milan. There he might have met Donato Bramante, first architect of St. Peter’s in Rome, Leonardo da Vinci, and other well-known artists; he would certainly have learned of the more brutal aspects of Renaissance politics, for the rule of the Sforzas was never secure. In 1499, when Lodovico was imprisoned by the French, Castiglione returned to Mantua to the court of the Marquis Francesco Gonzaga and his wife, Isabella d’Este, another center of polished society. He fought under Gonzaga at the battle of Garigliano in 1503.

In 1504, Castiglione, attracted by the order and culture of the court of Urbino, one of the most stable of the Italian states, became a valuable member of the staff of its duke, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who entrusted him with a number of important diplomatic missions. Castiglione went to England in 1506 to accept the order of the...

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Like the characters in his Book of the Courtier (1528), Baldassarre Castiglione spent most of his life working in the courts of Renaissance Italy. He is considered one of the most important prose writers of the period and one of the sharpest observers of the political and social dynamics within the courts of the Renaissance.

Castiglione was born in Casatico, a village near Mantua in Nothern Italy, on December 6, 1478, to Cristoforo Castiglione and Luigia Gonzaga. His family belonged to the Lombard aristocracy, and his mother was directly related to the ruling family of Mantua. Castiglione studied classics in Milan where he also attended the court of Ludovico il Moro. When his father died in 1499, he returned to Mantua where he worked for the Marquis Francesco Gonzaga, soon becoming one of the most important men of the court. In 1503, he followed the Marquis, who was a lieutenant general for the French troops, in his military campaign against the Spanish. The following year, Guidobaldo di Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, invited Castiglione to his court where the writer remained after the Duke's death in 1508, serving under Francesco Maria della Rovere. While he was living in Urbino, Castiglione started writing The Book of the Courtier, and with Cesare Gonzaga, he composed the eclogue Tirsi (1506), whose pastoral setting symbolically alludes to the Urbino court.

Along with having literary ambitions, Castiglione was given important diplomatic missions. In 1513, Francesco Maria della Rovere sent Castiglione to Rome as ambassador to the Pope Leo X. The celebrated portrait of Castiglione by Raphael dates back to these years when the two met and became close friends. Unfortunately, Castiglione could not prevent the removal of della Rovere and his replacement with the Pope's nephew, Lorenzo de' Medici, in 1516. Castiglione continued to work as ambassador in Rome for the Gonzaga family from Mantua. After a brief period spent in Mantua during the pontificate of Hadrian VI, Castiglione returned to Rome upon the election of Clement VII in 1523. Pope Clement appointed Castiglione ambassador of the Holy See in Madrid in 1524. Castiglione worked to reconcile Charles V and the Vatican. However, his attempts at a reconciliation could not prevent the Sack of Rome in 1527, an event for which the Pope blamed Castiglione, suspecting him of having withheld information to favour Charles V.

Castiglione died of the plague on February 2, 1529, in Toledo.


Ady, Julia Cartwright. Baldassare Castiglione, the Perfect Courtier. 2 vols. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1908. The standard biography.

Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s “Cortegiano.” University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Finucci, Valeria. The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. Examines the role of women in Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516, 1521, 1532) and Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier.

Hanning, Robert W., and David Rosand, eds. Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. Papers presented at a conference celebrating the five-hundredth anniversary of Castiglione’s birth in 1978.

Raffini, Christine. Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Political Approaches in Renaissance Platonism. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Wiggins, Peter DeSa. Donne, Castiglione, and the Poetry of Courtliness. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Discusses the political and social views of Castiglione and John Donne.

Woodhouse, John Robert. Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of “The Courtier.” Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1978. Focuses on the ideas of court and the courtier.