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Castiglione, Baldassare (1478–1529) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

francesco castiglione’s court dialogue

Born at Casàtico, near Mantua, Castiglione studied at Milan, then, after the death of his father in 1499, returned to Mantua and entered the service of Francesco Gonzaga, to whose family the Castigliones were connected. With Francesco he witnessed the occupation of Milan by the French troops of Louis XII, inaugurating the long era of foreign domination for the Italian peninsula. Castiglione’s relationship with Francesco never was easy; and in 1504 he welcomed the opportunity to shift his allegiance to the more congenial service of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino. Castiglione’s duties for both Francesco and Guidobaldo were, at least in part, military. After Guidobaldo was appointed gonfaloniere —captain of the papal forces—Henry VII elected him to membership in the Order of the Garter. Guidobaldo’s chronic ill health prevented him from journeying to England for the installation ceremony, so he knighted Castiglione and sent him as his proxy. The image of Castiglione disembarking in 1506 with gifts for Henry VII—a pair of fine horses, hunting hawks, and, in grateful tribute to the patron saint of the order, a painting of St. George and the Dragon by an Urbino artist, Raphael—suggests the physical arrival of the Italian Renaissance in England.

This memorable journey signaled an increasing shift to diplomatic activities, such as a 1507 mission to Louis XII in Milan. To Castiglione’s distress, Guidobaldo died in 1508, to be succeeded by his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, whom Castiglione continued to serve from 1513 to 1516 as envoy to the papal court. In 1516 Pope Leo X deprived Francesco Maria of Urbino, giving the duchy to his own nephew. The exiled Urbino court took refuge in Mantua, where Castiglione married and passed three quiet years. Il libro del cortegiano was begun some time after Guidobaldo’s death, but largely written during this period in Mantua. With the death of Francesco, Federico II Gonzaga succeeded as marquis of Mantua in 1519, sending Castiglione to Rome as his emissary. This position provided Castiglione with some much-needed financial security and influence at the papal court, which endured and increased over the death of Leo X and the brief tenure of Adrian VI; in 1524 Clement VII sent him to Spain as papal nuncio to the imperial court. Despite the difficulties of defending the pope’s policies, Castiglione gained the esteem of Charles V, which he retained through the trauma of the 1527 sack of Rome by imperial armies. Although the Cortegiano had been finished effectively years earlier, the threat that a pirated manuscript copy would appear induced Castiglione to issue an authorized version, edited by Pietro Bembo* and published in Venice by the Al-dine Press in April 1528. Castiglione’s diplomacy helped reestablish normal relations between the empire and the papacy; and he seems to have been disposed to accept Charles’ offer of the bishopric of Avila, when he died from a fever on 7 February 1529. Charles mourned the loss of one of the greatest knights in the world. In a discarded preface to the Cortegiano , Castiglione wrote that “only recently has a profession been made of this court service, if we can call it that, only recently has it been refined to an art and a discipline” (Wood-house, 189). This was the profession to which Castiglione devoted his life.


Life may not follow art, but criticism has a way of assuming the form of its subject. Appropriately, therefore, discussion of The Courtier in recent years has taken the form of dialogue or debate on a number of recurrent topics. Readings that emphasize the idealistic, escapist, and nostalgic elements have been challenged or modified by those pointing to the political realism, some even finding Machiavellian* qualities. In fact, both aspects are in the text; the genuine question is one of establishing proportions. A related debate arises in judging the morality of the courtier’s dissimulation, with a split between those who find any equivocation reprehensible and those who allow that human society could not exist without polite deceptions. Still another argument concerns the relationship of Book IV, apparently composed later, to the body of the dialogue, with some critics finding discontinuity, and others seeing it as carefully anticipated and entirely integral to the larger structure. Feminist scholars have introduced new issues. Although they concede that overtly the text treats women very positively, they either dismiss this by contrasting the status of women in contemporary society or by arguing that Castiglione’s fictive strategies nonetheless silence and disempower the women characters. The one argument seems to ignore the limits of the society portrayed, and the other, the actual power wielded by the duchess and Emilia Pia. Gender criticism has provided a more rewarding analytical method, suggesting that the process of aestheticizing the courtier has the effect of “feminizing” him. The critical dialogue is as resistant to closure as was the fictive dialogue in Urbino; but studies of dialogue as a literary form, of Renaissance rhetoric, and of the political and cultural contexts of Castiglione’s life continue to refine our positions in these critical debates and to help us understand why The Courtier was such a remarkably resonant text for its own time and remains so in ours.

Castle, Lee (originally, Castaido, Aniello) [next] [back] Castfucci, Pietro

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over 5 years ago

Who I'd castigilone baldassare