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Baldassare Castiglione: "Il Cortegiano"

Passages on Games in the "Book of the Courtier" (including Cards)

Note to playing card research: Duchessa Elisabetta in the "Il Cortegiano" is the same Duchessa in Urbino, Elisabetta of Gonzaga (1471 - 1526), which appears in the text of Viti, and to whom the edition of the Boiardo-deck was dedicated. She is a granddaughter of Barbara of Brandenburg and Louis the Turk of Gonzaga. Castiglione was from 1507 - 1513 in Urbino, the text was published first in 1528 (Viti died little later than 1500).

Source: online edition

Biography of author

Biography of author with comments on the text

Genealogy of Montefeltro

Genealogy of Gonzaga

  • 1. From the epistle of the author


    "To play for his pastime at Dice and Cardes, not wholye for monies sake, nor fume and chafe in his losse.
    To be meanly seene in the play at Chestes, and not overcounninge."

  • 2. From Book II

    "And what games? quoth the L. Gaspar.
    Syr Friderick aunswered: Lette us aske counsel of Frier Seraphin that daily inventeth newe.

    But in good earneste, replied the L. Gaspar, doe you not thynke it a vice in the Courtier to plaie at Dice and Cardes?
    I thynke it none, quoth Syr Fridericke, onlesse a man apply it tomuch, and by reason of that, setteth aside other thynges more necessary, or elles for none other entent but to get money, and to beguile his felow, and in his losse, fume and take on so, that it might be thought a token of covetounesse.
    The L. Gaspar answered: And what say you to the game at chestes?
    It is truely an honest kynde of enterteynmente and wittie, quoth Syr Friderick. But me think it hath a fault, whiche is, that a man may be to couning at it, for who ever will be excellent in the playe of chestes, I beleave he must beestowe much tyme about it, and applie it with so much study, that a man may assoone learne some noble scyence, or compase any other matter of importaunce, and yet in the ende in beestowing all that laboure, he knoweth no more but a game. Therfore in this I beleave there happeneth a very rare thing, namely, that the meane is more commendable, then the excellency.
    The L. Gaspar answered: There be many Spaniardes excellent at it, and in many other games, whiche for all that bestowe not muche studye upon it, nor yet lay aside the compassing of other matters.

    Beleave not the contrarye aunswered Syr Fridericke, but they beestowe muche studye upon it, although feiningly. As for those other games ye speake of beeside chestes, paraventure they are like many which I have seen that serve to small pourpose, but onely to make the commune people wonder. Therfore (in mine opinion) thei deserve none other praise or reward, then the great Alexander gave unto him, that standing a farr of, did so well broch Chiche peason upon a nedle.

  • 3: From book 3 (about woman behaviour, cardes are not mentioned)

    Then said the L. Gaspar: No doubt (my L. Julian) but you have decked gaily out this Gentilwoman, and made her of an excellent condicion: yet me seemeth that you have gone generallye inough to woorke, and neamed in her certein thinges so great, that I thinke in my minde you are ashamed to expound them, and have rather wished them in her, after the maner of them that somtime wishe for thinges unpossible and above nature, then taught them. Therfore woulde I that you declared unto us a little better, what exercises of the bodye are meete for a Gentilwoman of the Palaice, and in what sorte she ought to entertein, and what those many thinges be whiche you saye she ought to have a sight in: and whether wisedome, noblenesse of courage, staidnesse and those manye other vertues that you have spoken of, your meaninge is should helpe her about the overseeinge onlie of her house, children and houshoulde (the which neverthelesse you will not have her principall profession) or els to entertein, and to do these exercises of the body with a good grace: and in good felowship take heede ye put not these seelie vertues to so vyle an occupation that they may be ashamed of it.
    The L. Julian laughed and said: You can not chouse (my L. Gaspar) but still you must uttre youre yll stomake againste women. But certes me thought I had spoken sufficient, and especiallyie beefore such audience, that I beleave none here, but understandeth concernynge the exercises of the body, that it is not comlye for a woman to practise feates of armes, ridinge, playinge at tenise, wrastlinge, and manye other thynges that beelonge to men.
    Then said Unico Aretino: Emonge them of olde time the maner was that women wrastled naked with men, but we have lost this good custome together with manye mo.
    The L. Cesar Gonzaga replied to this: And in my time I have seene woman playe at tenise, practise feates of armes, ride, hunt, and do (in a maner) all the exercises beeside, that a gentilman can do.
    The L. Julian answered: Sins I may facion this woman after my minde, I will not onelye have her not to practise these manlie exercises so sturdie and boisterous, but also even those that are meete for a woman, I will have her to do them with heedfulnesse and with the soft mildenesse that we have said is comelie for her. And therfore in daunsynge I would not see her use to swift and violent trickes, nor yet in singinge or playinge upon instrumentes those harde and often divisions that declare more counninge then sweetenesse. Likewise the instrumentes of musike which she useth (in mine opinion) ought to be fitt for this Daunsinge.

    Imagin with your selfe what an unsightly matter it were to see a woman play upon a tambour or drumm, or blowe in a flute or trompet, or anye like instrumente: and this bicause the boisterousnesse of them doeth both cover and take away that sweete mildenes which setteth so furth everie deede that a woman doeth. Therfore whan she commeth to daunse, or to show any kinde of musike, she ought to be brought to it with suffringe her self somewhat to be prayed, and with a certein bashfulnes, that may declare the noble shamefastnes that is contrarye to headinesse. She ought also to frame her garmentes to this entent, and so to appararaile herself that she appeere not fonde and light. But forsomuch as it is lefull and necessary for women to sett more by their beawty then men, and sundrie kindes of beawtie there are, thys woman ought to have a judgement to knowe what maner garmentes set her best out, and be most fitt for the exercises that she entendeth to undertake at that instant, and with them to arraye herselfe. And where she perceyveth in her a sightlye and cheerfull beawtie, she ought to farther it with gestures, wordes and apparaile, that all may betoken mirth. In like case an other that feeleth herself of a milde and grave disposition, she ought also to accompany it with facions of the like sort, to encrease that that is the gift of nature. In like maner where she is somwhat fatter or leaner then reasonable sise, or wanner, or browner, to helpe it with garmentes, but feiningly asmuch as she can possible, and keapinge herself clenlye and handsome, showe alwaies that she bestoweth no pein nor diligence at all about it. And bicause the L. Gaspar doeth also aske what these manye thinges be she ought to have a sight in, and howe to entertein, and whether the vertues ought to be applyed to this enterteinment, I saye that I will have her to understande that these Lordes have wylled the Courtier to knowe: and in those exercises that we have saide are not comelye for A judgement in exercises not meete for her.

    Will at the least she have that judgement, that men can have of the thinges which they practise not, and this to have knowleage to praise and make of Gentilmen more and lesse accordinge to their desertes. And to make a breef rehersall in fewe woordes of that is alreadye saide, I will that this woman have a sight in letters, in musike, in drawinge or peinctinge, and skilfull in dausninge, and in divising sportes and pastimes, accompaniynge with that discreete sobermode and with the givinge a good opinion of herselfe, the other principles also that have bine taught the Courtier. And thus in conversation, in laughing, in sporting, in jestinge, finally in every thinge she shall be had in very great price, and shall entertein accordingly both with Jestes and feat conceites meete for her, everie person that commeth in her company. And albeit staidnes, noblenes of courage, temperance, strength of the minde, wisdome and the other vertues a man wold thinke beelonged not to entertein, yet will I have her endowed with them all, not somuch to entertein (although notwithstanding they may serve therto also) as to be vertuous: and these vertues to make her suche a one, that she may deserve to be esteamed, and al her doinges framed by them.
    I wonder then, quoth the L. Gaspar smilinge, sins you give women both letters, and staidnesse, and noblenesse of courage and temperance, ye will not have them also to beare rule in Cities and to make lawes, and to leade armies, and men to stand spinning in the kitchin.

    (composed by autorbis)

Boiardo deck card



Baldassare Castiglione,
painted 1514/1515
by his friend Raphael