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.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today