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Excerpts from

The Book of the Courtier

by Baldesar Castiglione

Raphael, Portrait of Baldesar Castiglione,

I,1: ...You ask me then to write what is to my thinking the form of Courtiership most befitting a gentleman who lives at the court of princes, by which he may have the ability and knowledge perfectly to serve them in every reasonable thing, winning from them favour, and praise from other men; in short, what manner of man he ought to be who may deserve to be called a perfect Courtier without flaw....

[Count Ludovico da Canossa] I, 14: I wish , then, that this Courtier of ours should be anobly born and of gentle race; because it is far less unseemly for one of ignoble birth to fail in worthy deeds, than for one of noble birth, who, if he strays from the path of his predecessors, stains his family name, and not only fails to achieve but loses what has been achieved already; for noble birth is like a bright lamp that manifest and makes visible good and evil deeds, and kindles and stimulates virtue both by fear of shame and by hope of praise. And since this splendour of nobility does not illumine the deeds of the humbly born, they lack that stimulus and fear of shame, nor do they feel any obligation to advance beyond what their predecessors have dine; while to the nobly born it seems a reproach not to reach at least the goal set them by their ancestors. And thus it nearly always happens that both in the profession of arms and in other worthy pursuits the most famous men have been of noble birth, because nature has implanted in everything that hidden seed which gives a certain force and quality of its own essence to all things that are derived from it, and makes them like itself: as we see not only in the breeds of horses and other animals, but also in trees, the shoots of which nearly always resemble the trunk; and if they sometimes degenerate, it arises from poor cultivation. And so it is with men, who if rightly trained are nearly always like those from whom they spring, and often better; but if there be no one to give them proper care, they become like savages and never reach perfection....

I,15: Here, without waiting longer, my lord Gaspar Pallavicino said: "In order that our game may have the form prescribed, and that we may not seem to slight the privilege given us to contradict. I say that this nobility of birth does not appear to me so essential in the Courtier; and if I thought I were say what was new to any of us, I should cite instances of many men born of the noblest blood who have been full of vices; and on the other hand, of many men among the humbly born who by their virtue have made their posterity illustrious. And if what you just said be true, namely that there is in everything this occult influence of the original seed, then we should all be in the same case, because we had the same origin, nor whould any man be more nobl than another.....

I,24: "If I remember rightly, Sir Count, I think you have repeated several times this evening that the Courtier must accompany his actions, gestures, habits, in short his every movement, with grace....I long to know by what art, by what training, by what method, they can acquire this grace, as well in bodily exercises (in which you esteem it to be so necessary) as also in everything else that they may do or say....

I, 26:"Therefore he who wishes to be a good pupil, besides performing his task well, must put forth every effort to resemble his master, and, if it were possible, to transform himself into his master. And when he feels that he has made some progress, it will be very profitable to observe different men of the same calling and governing himself with that good judgement which must ever be his guide, to go about selecting now this thing from one and that thing from another. And as the bee in the green meadows is ever wont to rob the flowers among the grass, so our Courtier must steal this grace from all who seem to possess it....

"But before now often considered whence this grace springs, laying aside those men who have it by nature, I find one universal rule concerning it, which seems to me worth more in this matter than any other in all things human that are done or said: and that is to avoid affectation to the uttermost and as it were a very sharp and dangerous rock; and, to use possibly a new word, to practise in everything a certain nonchalance [sprezzatura] that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought. From this I believe grace is in large measure derived, because everyone knows the difficulty of those things that are rare and done well, and therefore facility in them excites the highest admiration; while on the other hand, to stive and as the saying is to drag by the hair, is extremely ungraceful, and makes us esteem eveything slightly, however great it be.

"Accordingly we may affirm that to be true art which does not appear to be art; nor to anything must we give greater care than to conceal art, for it is discovered, it quite destroys our credit and brings us into small esteem....

I. 28..."You see then," replied the Count, "the harmful effect of affectation in this as in other things. It is said also to have been proverbial among some very excellent painters of antiquity, that over diligence is harmful, and Protogenes is said to have been censured by Apelles because he did not know when to take his hand from the tablet....

"Apelles meant that in his painting Protogenes did not know when he had finished, which was the same thing as reproving him for being affected in his work. Thus this excellence, which is the opposite of affectation and which for the present we call nonchalance, besides being the true fountain from which grace springs, carries with it another ornament, which, in accompanying any human action whatever and however trifling it be, not only at once reveals the knowledge of him who performs it, but often leads us to reate his knowledge as much greater than in fact it is; because it impresses upon the minds of the bystanders the idea that he who does well so easily, knows much more than he does, and that if he were to use care and effort in what he did, he could do it far better....

Often too in painting, a single line not laboured, a single brushstroke easily drawn, so that it seems as if the hand moves unbidden to its aim according to the painter's wish, without being guided by care or any skill, clearly reveals the excellence of the craftsman, which every man appreciates according to his capacity for judging.....

I, 49: Then the Count said:

"Before we enter upon that subject, I wish to discuss another matter, which I deem of great importance and therefore think our Courtier ought by no means to omit: and this is to know how to draw and to have acquaintance with the very art of painting.

" And do not marvel that I desire this art, which today may seem to savour of the artisan and little to befit a gentleman; for I remember having read that the ancients, especially throughout Greece, had their boys of gentle birth study painting in school as an honorable and necessary thing, and it was admitted to the first rank of liberal arts; while by public edict they forbade that it be taught to slaves. Among the Romans too, it was held in highest honour, and the very noble family of the Fabii took their name from it; for the first Fabius was given the name Pictor, because, --being indeed a most excellent painter, and so devoted to painting that when he painted the wall of the temple of Health, -- he inscribed his name thereon; for although he was born of a family thus renowned and honoured with so many consular titles, triumphs and other dignities, and although he was a man of letters and learned in the law, and numbered among the orators, --yet he thought to add splendour and ornament to his fame by leaving a memorial that he had been a painter. Nor is there lack of many other men of illustrious family, celebrated in this art; which besided being very noble and worthy in itself, is of great utility, and especially in war for drawing places, sites, rivers, bridges, rocks, fortresses, and the like; since however well we may keep them to memory (which is very difficult), we cannot show them to others.

"And truly he who does not esteem this art, seems to me very unreasonable; for this universal fabric that we see, --with the vast heaven so rightly adorned with shining stars, and in the midst the earth girdled by the seas, varied with mountains, valleys and rivers, and bedecked with so many divers trees, beautiful flowers and grasses, --may be said to be a great and noble picture, composed by the hand of nature and of God; and whoever is able to imitate it, seems to me deserving of great praise: nor can it be imitated without knowledge of many things, as he knows well who tries. Hence the ancients greatly prized both the art and the artists, which thus attained the summit of highest excellence; very sure proof of which may be found in the antique marble and bronze statues that yet are seen. And although painting is different from sculpture, both the one and the other spring from the same source, which is good design. Therefore, as the statues are divine, so we may believe the pictures were also; the more indeed because they are are susceptible of greater skill."

I,50: Then my lady Emilia turned to Giancristoforo Romano, who was sitting with the others there, and said:

"What think you of this opinion? Do you admit that painting is susceptible of greater skill than sculpture?"

Giancristoforo replied:

"I, my Lady, think that sculpture needs more pains, more skill, and is of greater dignity than painting."

The Count rejoined:

"In that statues are more enduring, perhaps we might say they are of greater dignity; for being made as memorials, they fulfil better than painting the purpose for which they are made. But besides serving as memorials, both painting and sculpture serve also to beautify, and in this respect painting is much superior; for if less diuturnal (so to speak) than sculpture, yet it is of very long life, and is far more charming so long as it endures."

The Giancristoforo replied:

"I really think that you are speaking against your convictions and that you are doing so solely for the sake of your friend Raphael; and perhaps too the excellence you find in his painting seems to you so consummate that sculpture cannot rival it: but consider that this is praise of an artist and not of his art."

Then he continued:

"It seems clear to me that both the one and the other are artificial imitations of nature; but I do not see how you can say that truth, such as nature makes it, is not better imitated in a marble or bronze statue, --wherein the members are round, formed, and measured, as nature makes them,--than in a painting, werhe we see nothing but he surface and those colours that cheat the eyes; nor will you tell me, surely, that being is not nearer truth than seeming. Moreover I think sculpture is more difficult, because if a slip is made, it cannot be corrected (since marble cannot be patched again), but another statue must be made anew; which does not happen with painting, for one may change a thousand times, and add and take away, improving always."

51.- The Counta said, laughing:

"I am not speaking for Raphael's sake; nor ought you to repute me so ignorant as not to know the excellence of Michelangelo in sculpture, your own, and others'. But I am speaking of the art, and not of the artists.

"You say very truly that both the one and the other are imitations of nature; but it is not true that painting seems, and sculpture is. For while statues are round as in life and painting is seen only on the surface, statues lack many things that paintings do not lack, and especially light and shade. Thus flesh has one tone and marble another; and this the painter imitates to the life by chiaroscuro, greater or less according to the need, -which the sculptor cannot do. And although the painter does not make his figure round, he presents the muscles and members rounded in such fashion as to join the parts which are not seen, that we can discern very well that the painter knows and understands these also. And in this, another and greater skill is needed to represent those members that are foreshortened and grow smaller in proportion to the distance by reason of perspective; which, by means of measured lines, colours, lights, and shades, shows you foreground and distance all on the single surface of an upright wall, in such proportion as he chooses. Do you really think it of small moment to imitate the natural colours, in representing flesh or stuffs or any other coloure thing? The sculptor certainly cannot do this, or express the grace of black eyes or blue, with the splendour of their amorous beams. He cannot show the colour of fair hair, or the gleam of weapons, or a dark night, or a storm at sea, or of rosy dawn with its rays of gold and purple. In short, he cannot show sky, sea, earth, mountains, woods, meadows, gardens, rivers, cities, or houses, --all of which the painter shows.

52.- "Therefore painting seems to me nobler and more susceptible of skill, than sculpture. And I think that it, like other things, reached the summit of excellence among the ancients: which still is seen in the few slight remains that are left, especially in the grottoes of Rome; but much more clearly may it be perceived in the ancient authors, wherein is such honoured and frequent mention both of works and of masters, and whereby we learn how highly they were always honoured by great lords and commonwealths.

"Thus we read that Alexander loved Apelles of Ephesus dearly, --so dearly, that having caused the artist to paint a portrait of his favourite slave undraped, and hearing that the worthy painter had become most ardently enamoured of her by reason of her marvellous beauty, he gave her to Apelles without hesitation: --munificence truly worthy of Alexander, to sacrifice not only treasure and states but his every affections and desires; and sign of exceeding love for Apelles, in order to please the artist, not to hesitate at displeasing the woman he dearly loved, who (we may believe) was sorely grieved to change so great a king for a painter. Many other signs also are told of Alexander's favour to Apelles; but he clearly showed how highly he esteemed the painter, in commanding by public edict that none other should presume to paint his portrait.

"Here I could tell you of the rivalries of many noble painters, which filled nearly the whole world with praise and wonderment. I could tell you with what solemnity ancient emperors adorned their triumphs with pictures, and set them up in public places, and how dearly bought them; and that there were some painters who gave their works as gifts, esteeming gold and silver inadequate to pay for them; and how a painting by Protogenes was prized so highly, that when Demetrius laid siege to Rhodes and could have gained an entrance by setting fire to the quarter whee he knew the painting was, he refrained from giving battle so that it might not be burned, and thus did not capture the place; and that Metrodorus, a philosopher and very excellent painter, was sent by the Athenians to Lucius Paulus to teach his children and ot adorn the triumph that he was about to received. Moreover many noble authors have written about this art, which is a great sign of the esteem in which it was held; but I do not wish to enlarge further upon it in this discussion.

"So let it be enough ot say that it is fitting for our Courtier to have knowledge of painting also, as being honourable and useful and highly prized in those times when men were of far greater worth than now they are. And if he should never derive from it other use or pleasure than the help it affords in judging the merit of statues ancient and modern, of vases, buildings, medals, cameos, intaglios, and the like, --it also enables him to appreciate the beauty of living bodies, not only as to delicacy of face but as to symmetry of all the other parts, both in men and in every other creature. Thus you see how a knowledge of painting is a source of great pleasure. And let those think of this, who so delight in contemplating a woman's beauty that they seem to be in paradise, and yet cannot paint; which if they could do, they would have much greater pleasure, because they would more perfectly appreciate that beauty which engenders such satisfaction in their hearts."

52.-- Here messer Cesare Gonzaga laughted, and said:

"Certainly I am no painter; yet I am sure I have greater pleasure in looking upon a woman than that admirable Apelles, whom you just mentioned, would have if he were now come back to life."

The Count replied:

"This pleasure of yours is not derived wholly from her beauty, but from the affection that perhaps you bear her; and if you will say the truth, the first timne you saw that woman you did not feel a thousandth part of the pleasure that you did afterwards, although her beauty was the same. Thus you may see how much more affection had to do with your pleasure, than beauty had."