The Book of the Courtier

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Early Modern English cover of the Book of the Courtier.

The Book of the Courtier (Italian: Il Cortegiano) was written by Baldassare Castiglione over the course of many years beginning in 1508 and published in 1528 just before he died. Baldassare was inspired to write the Courtier by his experiences as a courtier of the virgin Duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga at the court of Urbino. The Courtier is a dialogue in four books on the subject of what constitutes a perfect courtier, and in book three, a perfect lady.

To this day, the Book of the Courtier remains the definitive account of Renaissance court life. Because of this, it may possibly be considered one of the most important of Renaissance works.

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Beginning with Elisabetta Gonzaga asking for a topic of conversation for the evening, the work is narrated by Ludovico da Canossa, Federigo Fregoso, and Julian de Medici among others.

The courtier is described as having a cool mind, a good voice (with beautiful, elegant and brave words), and proper bearing and gestures. At the same time, though, the courtier is expected to have a warrior spirit, to be athletic and to have good knowledge of the humanities, classics, and how to draw and paint. However, with all these skills he does everything with certain nonchalance or "sprezzatura."

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