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The Book of the Courtier

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            Book for manners are not new. They are definitely not unique to the modern world. Even during the Renaissance period, there were some attempts to prescribe conduct to ladies and gentlemen and people who are performing different kinds of roles and behaviors.

            The Book of the Courtier is one such book dealing with the prescription of conduct and behavior. It was written by Baldassare Catiglione in Italy for a period of twenty years. It was published in 1528. This book was written because Castiglione served as a courtier of virgin Duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga in the Urbino court.

            The Book of the Courtier is a collection of four books, which consist of dialogues concerning the ideal courtier and also the ideal lady. This book amazingly portrays the kind of life of court life and how Renaissance life looked like. Why would Castiglione write such a book? In this regard, it could be surmised that he wanted to prescribe conduct for courtesans, gentlemen, and ladies in the Renaissance era Italy.

In this, he succeeded. His book was considered as the veritable textbook for conduct and behavior in the Renaissance period. One would expect therefore that courtesans, gentlemen and ladies read this book as a regular part of their education and training. The conversations and actions of the visitors to the Urbino court were described and presented so as to show the kind of behavior that is acceptable for Italian court life. The popularity of the book could have brought equal popularity to Castiglione. Fame, however, could not have been his intention in writing this book. By writing the book, Castiglione managed to change the image of the perfect gentleman from one relying on prowess in battle to one who has to know about the classics and other philosophical works (Raffini, 35).

The Book of the Courtier

            The protocols of the elite are outlined on Castiglione’s book. It is like the behavior prescription book of his time. The book could have easily been a parody, a very good one at that, of the events occurring at the court on a daily basis. It would be possible that Castiglione was always in conversation with Duke Federigo of Urbino, who happened to be a model duke in all of Renaissance Italy. Duke Federigo was very fond of learning and philosophy. Likewise, he was also a good ruler and showed justice to his subjects. In this case, Federigo became an exemplary model of a renaissance prince who is good to both his friends and his enemies.

            The Book of Courtier perhaps was needed to be written by Castiglione because of the need to clarify what was needed for gentlemen and ladies. The prevailing notion about a gentleman was someone who was chivalrous and who displayed physical prowess, particularly in the battlefield. The Book of Courtier then challenges this notion and seeks to become the new notion for a gentleman’s behavior as well as that of ladies, and other courtiers. To gain a better understanding of why Castiglione wrote the book, it would be necessary to take a look at his life. This way, important insights could be determined from his colleagues, his experiences, and his place in the Renaissance period of his society (Hanning and Rosand, 208).

The Life of Baldassare Catiglione

            Baldasare Castiglione was a count, a soldier, a diplomat, and an Italian courtier. Because he studied humanities at an early age, he became an author. After the death of his father, he became the head of their noble family. His role included representing the family to other courts and to other meetings and functions. He met the Duke of Urbino in 1504 and he was allowed to pass in this court (Hanning and Rosand, 250).

            During his time, Urbino was the most refined and the most elegant court in Italy. It was managed by Elisabetta Gonzaga and her sister-in-law Maria Emilia Pia. In this court, there were competitions of the intellect and production of literature. These competitions contributed to the cultural life of the court and the enrichment of the people who attended them (Shapiro, 146).

            The early writings of Castiglione already featured the visitors and the occurrences at the court of Urbino. He knew the classics and it showed in his writings.       His correspondences with other literary figures of his time also became a form of literary diplomacy. Castiglione also became an ambassador of Urbino to Rome where he gained a lot of friends, artists, and writers. Raphael who was one of the Renaissance painters became his friend who also gave him a lot of meaningful suggestions and constructive criticisms (Shapiro, 358).

            Given his extensive experience in the court life of Italy, he was fully qualified to write the Book of the Courtier. He drew upon his experiences, the dialogues he had and his observations of ladies and gentlemen who visited in the Urbino court. This was published in 1528 and was received well. He died a year later. During the next fifty years of its publication, the Book was translated into English, French, German, and Spanish. There were a total of 108 editions since 1528 (Hanning and Rosand, 248).


            Based on the life of Castiglione and the social setting during the Renaissance, it could be surmised why he wrote the book. For one, he depicted the daily proceedings and discussions at the elegant court of Urbino. In doing so, he showed the finesse and the excellence of the Duke of Urbino, who exemplified the ideals of a Renaissance gentleman.

            Secondly, Castiglione challenged the Middle Ages notion of a gentleman and courtiers. He did this by putting ahead the importance of intellectual capabilities, philosophy, and the arts. Physical prowess and battle worthiness are no longer the main criteria for considering who is a gentleman and who is not. The author therefore wanted to create a prescription for behavior in the courts, thereby contributing to a better and more enlightened society. His presentation of the book is also light and enjoyable, having presented it in a dialogue format.

            Lastly, Castiglione presented a summary of his experiences as a courtier, count, and diplomat. This way, he has written his own memoir and presented an interesting and accurate view of what Renaissance society looked like. This became his major contribution to the development of the appreciation of the arts and the humanities. In this regard, the good qualities of a courtier are also applicable to men and women today who want to become exemplary models of learning.

Work Cited

Hanning, Robert W., and David Rosand, eds. Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture. New Haven and London, 1983.

Raffini, Christine, Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Political Approaches in Renaissance Platonism, (Renaissance and Baroque Studies and Texts, v.21,) Peter Lang Publishing, 1998.

Shapiro, Irwin. The Golden Book of the Renaissance. New York, Golden Press, 1983.

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