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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