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Work Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529)

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

Portrait de Baldassare Castiglione, écrivain et diplomate (1478 - 1529)

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Italian painting

Cécile Scailliérez

The elegance and discretion of the dress, the intense but simple and natural presence of the model make this image of Castiglione, a friend of the artist and author of The Courtier (published 1528), the prime portrait of the accomplished gentleman and perfect courtier described in the book. This painting was probably executed in Rome in 1514–1515, on the occasion of Castiglione's appointment as ambassador to the pope by the Duke of Urbino.

Baldassare Castiglione

The portrait's subject is Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529), poet, humanist, and ambassador, whom Raphael first met as a young man in Urbino. Famous for writing The Courtier, published in 1528 and dedicated to describing the ideal man of the court, Castiglione found a friend in Raphael, both men sharing the same ideas regarding beauty and harmony.

The courtier incarnate

This mutual affinity is perfectly expressed in Raphael's astonishingly simple and natural portrait, painted no doubt in accordance with the intentions of its model. Castiglione is depicted in a costume of remarkable elegance and discretion, in line with his concept of the accomplished gentleman. The ambassador's hair is wrapped in a turban over which sits a beret with a notched edge adorned with a medallion; his sober doublet is trimmed on the front and upper sleeves in gray squirrel fur laced with black ribbon; under it, a bloused white shirt. This winter dress suggests that the portrait was painted during the winter of 1514–1515 when Castiglione, appointed by the Duke of Urbino to Pope Leo X, was in Rome. Raphael had been working there since 1508.
The sober harmony of the costume, limited to shades of black, gray and white, is extended in the painting's background of a light and warm gray-beige tone, bathed in diffused light into which the model's shadow gently fades on the right. The composition is bordered, as in the case of Raphael's other paintings, by a narrow black band, deliberately cutting the image off at the hands and focusing the viewer's attention on the face and the intense gaze.

A natural portrait

Castiglione is shown in three-quarter profile from the waist up, seated in an armchair merely suggested in the lower right, hands folded and his gaze fixed on the viewer; this posture, as well as the soft luminescence that envelopes the portrait, are a subtle homage to the Mona Lisa. It is certain that Raphael saw the painting during Leonardo's stay in Rome before the latter left for France. But the respective atmospheres of the two works, and no doubt the ambitions of the men who painted them, are markedly different. Referring to this portrait in a Latin elegy dedicated to his wife, Castiglione himself made mention of the uncanny resemblance and the feeling of human presence it emits. Above all, it is the naturalness— the immediacy, freedom of carriage, and expressive vivacity— which make this life-like portrait so extraordinarily modern.

Technical description

  • Raffaello SANTI, dit RAPHAËL (Urbino, 1483 - Rome, 1520)

    Portrait de Baldassare Castiglione, écrivain et diplomate (1478 - 1529)

  • H. : 0,82 m. ; L. : 0,67 m.

  • Collection de Louis XIV

    INV. 611

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Grande Galerie
    Room 710, 712, 716

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