Le parfait courtisan.
Rouen, De L’Imprimerie de George L’Oysselet, pour Claude Micard a Paris, 1585.


8vo. pp. (xxxii), 660, (xxxiv); Lacking last blank. Double column, French in Roman letter, Italian in Italic. Title within ornate architectural border publisher’s initials at head and tail, small woodcut portrait bust, woodcut initials and headpieces, C19th stamp “B. Grandmaison” in lower blank margin of title, with a ms. shelf mark above. Light age yellowing, title very slightly dusty, with a couple of small marginal holes, minor light marginal water-stain in lower margin towards end. A very good clean copy in contemporary limp vellum, yapp edges, remains of ties, lower outer corner of lower cover torn.

Excellent edition of the best C16th French translation of Castiglione’s Cortigione by Gabriel Chapuis, published simultaneously in Lyon, Rouen and Paris, a near exact reprint of the first of 1580, of tremendous influence in France. This translation was also published in Britain in 1588 in Wolfe’s trilingual edition along with the equally influential English translation by Thomas Hoby. Chapuis states that his reason for attempting a new translation is, in the same way that the Perfect Courtier described in the book cannot actually exist, neither can the perfect translation, and he felt that previous attempts had fallen short of the high standards demanded by Castiglione’s masterpiece.

The Cortigione is the prototype courtesy book and one of the most enduringly popular and influential works of the Italian Renaissance. “The Courtier depicts the ideal aristocrat, and it has remained the perfect definition of a gentleman ever since. It is an epitome of the highest moral and social ideals of the Italian Renaissance, many of them inspired by classical examples. Another section provides similar rules for the conduct of a lady and the book ends with the celebrated pronouncement on platonic love by Bembo.” Printing and the Mind of Man. The work was soon translated into most European languages and Cervantes, Corneille, Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson and Shelley are but a few of those who are clearly in its debt.

The book is based on a nostalgic recreation of Castiglione’s experience at the court of Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro of Urbino at the turn of the sixteenth century. It describes the ideal court and courtier, and relates the philosophical, cultured and lively conversations that occurred at Urbino, presided over by Elizabetta Gonzaga. The conversation, which takes place over a span of four days in the year 1507, addressed the topic, proposed by Federico Fregoso, of what constitutes an ideal Renaissance gentleman and is written in refined and elegant prose, spiced with humour. The speakers, prominent nobles and literati in the court of Urbino, include Giuliano de Medici, Pietro Bembo, Ludovico da Canossa Emilia Pia, Elizabetta Gonzaga amongst many others.

BM STC Fr. C16th p. 94 (Paris version). Brunet I 1630-1. IA 133.642. Not in Adams.


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