An Italian author, soldier, and diplomat, Baldesar Castigilone is best known for producing one of the most representative documents of Renaissance aristo­cratic culture. He was born to a somewhat impoverished, but decidedly distin­guished family at Casatico in the Duchy of Mantua. Related through his mother to the Gonzaga of Mantua, he was raised as a familiar of that illustrious family. He received his formal education at the University of Milan, where he studied Latin and Greek, and trained in the martial disciplines appropriate to his class. In 1496 he joined the court of Lodovico Sforza of Milan, where he established a reputation for the scholarly ability, natural grace, and pleasant disposition that were to be the trademarks of his public persona. His father's death and the ousting of Lodovico by the French in 1499 marked the end of Castiglione's service there, and he found himself again in the circles of the Gonzaga. In 1503 he went to Naples in the military train of Marquis Francesco, who had allied himself with the French. The experience proved disappointing, however, and he petitioned his patron to release him to the service of Duke Guidobaldo Monte-feltro of Urbino.
Castiglione's decision to move to Urbino in 1504 was a pivotal moment in his public career and, ultimately, his literary destiny. He honed his diplomatic skills in the service of Guidobaldo, who sent him as emissary to Henry VII of England, but it was the court of Urbino and its inhabitants that served as the focus of Castiglione's interest. Largely presided over by Guidobaldo's wife, Duchess Elizabetta Gonzaga, Urbino had become the common ground for some of the most celebrated names of Italian intellectual, literary, and political culture. Steeped in the society of such personalities as Pietro Bembo,* Giuliano de' Medici, and Bibbiena (Bernardo Dovizi), Castiglione would later look back on this company as a working model of gentility and courtly excellence. Although the atmosphere of the court changed after the death of Guidobaldo in 1508, Castiglione remained in the diplomatic and military service of Urbino under Francesco Maria della Rovere until the latter's deposition by the forces of Pope Leo X* in 1517.
Castiglione returned to Mantua, where he married Ippolita Tovelli and settled down in semiretirement until 1519, when he was sent again to the papal court in the service of Federico Gonzaga.* He was still in residence there when Ippol-ita died after giving birth to their third child in 1520, ending a brief but deeply affectionate marriage. He remained in Rome until Clement VII appointed him papal nuncio to Spain in 1524. The commission, however, was fraught with difficulties. Relations between the pope and Charles V* were deteriorating rap­idly, and when imperial troops sacked Rome in 1527, Clement clearly laid some blame on his ambassador. A reconciliation was eventually reached, but illness and exhaustion had worn down the pope's emissary. In 1529, shortly after being appointed bishop-elect of Avila, Castiglione died in Toledo, Spain. The news of his passing prompted Charles V's succinct and oft-quoted eulogy: "Yo os digo que es muerto de los mejores caballeros del mundo" (I tell you that one of the finest gentlemen in the world is dead).
The pursuit and perfection of gentility had always been central issues in Cas-tiglione's life, and the vehicle he found to express them was to become one of the principal literary works of his age. Castiglione wrote Il cortegiano (The Courtier) as a semifictitious retrospective of the court of Urbino when it was at its height in 1506, exploring in dialogue form the composition of the model participants of aristocratic society. In so doing, he made the book a dramatized compendium of Renaissance thought and ideals, covering a diversity of topics from correct rhetorical usage to the virtues of platonic love. Castiglione com­posed the first draft of the book between 1508 and 1518, mostly while on diplomatic assignment in Rome. The manuscript was later circulated among his friends and acquaintances, some of whom (like Bembo) were principal charac­ters in the work. The book was enthusiastically received, but Castiglione re­frained from publishing it until 1528, when he received word that Vittoria Colonna* and others who were in possession of portions of the manuscript were about to do so without authorization. In print, Il cortegiano was an enormous success both within and beyond Italy, especially in England, where Sir Thomas Hoby's* translation, published in 1561, had a significant impact on the ideals of Elizabethan courtly society.
P. Burke, The Fortunes ofthe Courtier, 1995.
B. Castiglione, The Book ofthe Courtier, trans. George Bull, 1967.
R. Roeder, The Man of the Renaissance, 1933.
Michael J. Medwick

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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