No Comment, Quotation — May 24, 2008, 4:27 pm

Castiglione’s Renaissance Cool

castiglione

Ma avendo io già più volte pensato meco onde nasca questa grazia, lasciando quelli che
dalle stelle l’hanno, trovo una regula universalissima, la qual mi par valer circa questo in tutte
le cose umane che si facciano o dicano più che alcuna altra, e ciò è fuggir quanto più si po, e
come un asperissimo e pericoloso scoglio, la affettazione; e per dir forse una nova parola, usar
in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l’arte e dimostri ciò che si fa e dice venir
fatto senza fatica e quasi senza pensarvi. Da questo credo io che derivi assai la grazia, perchè
delle cose rare e ben fatte ognun sa la difficultà, onde in esse la facilità genera gran meraviglia; e, per lo contrario, il sforzare, e, come si dice, tirar per i capegli, dà summa disgrazia, e fa estimar poco ogni cosa, per grande ch’ella si sia. Però si puo dir quella esser vera arte, che non appare esser arte; nè più in altro si ha da poner studio, che nel nasconderla: perchè se è scoperta, leva in tutto il credito, e fa l’omo poco estimato.

I found a universal rule which appears to govern human actions or words more than any other: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and (to use perhaps a novel word for it) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura which suppresses all artifice and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless. I am sure that grace springs especially from this, since everyone knows how difficult it is to accomplish some unusual feat perfectly, and so accomplishment in such matters produces the greatest marvel; whereas, in contrast, to labor at what one is doing and, as we say, to make bones over it, shows an extreme lack of grace and causes everything, whatever its worth, to be discounted. So we can truthfully say that true art is what does not seem to be art; and the most important thing is to suppress the artistry, because if it is revealed this discredits a man completely and ruins his reputation.

Baldassare Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano (1528), lib i, sec xxvi (S.H. transl.)

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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