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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.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”