Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael
Interpretation of High Renaissance Portrait Painting

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Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael
Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
By Raphael.
One of the great portraits
of the Italian Renaissance,
it is seen as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514-15)


Interpretation & Meaning of Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
Other Portraits by Raphael


Artist: Raphael (1483-1520)
Medium: Panel paintings
Genre: Renaissance portraits
Movement: Renaissance art
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris.

For other important pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

Art Analysis
To evaluate paintings by
cinquecento painters
like Raffaello Sanzio, see
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Interpretation of Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione

This piece of portrait art, one of the most famous of the High Renaissance, depicts Baldassarre Castiglione, a literary artist and thinker active at the court of Urbino during the early 16th century. A masterpiece of High Renaissance painting, it was painted at the peak of Raphael's fame and therefore must be assumed to be a collaborative effort between the master and his assistants, such as Giovanni Francesco Penni (1496-1536), Giulio Romano (1499-1546) and Perino del Vaga (1501-47). That said, several pictorial elements - including the understated elegance of the dress, the shaded tonality of the fabric, the light background, as well as the intelligent but simple presence of the sitter, clearly point to the hand of Raphael. Recently displayed at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, the painting is now once more at its permanent home in the Louvre Museum in Paris. It remains one of the greatest portrait paintings by Raphael, and a wonderful exemplar of the Renaissance in Rome, during the second decade of the 16th century. The great Flemish Baroque painter Rubens (1577-1640) admired it so much that he made a copy of it.




Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529), an eminent humanist and a writer, was one of the luminaries of the Italian Renaissance. His best-selling book The Courtier ("Il cortegiano"), which embodied many of the views of the Rinascimento, offers important insights into the cultural ideas of the court of Urbino, at the turn of the 15th/16th century. Raphael, who was from the same highly cultured Urbino set, was a friend of Castiglione, shared similar aesthetics and would have been very familiar with The Courtier. Indeed, his portrait of his friend exactly pictorialized the ideal Renaissance courtier described in the book. The exact date of the work is not known, but it was probably painted in Rome between 1514 and 1515, on the occasion of Castiglione's appointment as Urbino's Ambassador to the Vatican.

Baldassare Castiglione is portrayed from the waist up in three-quarter profile, with folded hands and his gaze fixed on the artist. The position of the arms indicates that he is sitting in an armchair, and his overall pose - together with the soft luminescence that envelopes the canvas - may be regarded as a discreet act of homage to Leonardo's Mona Lisa. There is no doubt that Raphael would have seen the painting when Leonardo da Vinci was in Rome prior to his departure for France, although the mood of the Castiglione portrait is quite different from that of La Giocondo. Baldassare himself was struck both by the uncanny realism and naturalism of Raphael's painting and the human presence it transmitted.

Raphael brought the classical triangular arrangement to its culmination in his Virgin and Child portraits - see, for instance, The Sistine Madonna (1513-14, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden). In contrast, his Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione is composed out of circular forms, and the sitter's face and body are clearly set apart from the nearly monochrome background. He is dressed in a costume of elegant but unadorned luxury. His hair is held in a turban, or chaperon, then covered by a black beret embellished with a medallion. In addition, he is wearing a simple white blouse underneath a doublet of grey squirrel fur laced with black ribbon. (The fur indicates that the subject was most likely painted during the winter of 1514–1515.) The understated simplicity and harmony of Castiglione's costume, captured exclusively in shades of grey, white and black, is extended into the backdrop of the painting, which consists of a light and warm grey-beige tone, suffused in soft light. The composition is deliberately cut off at the hands, which focuses attention on the face and the intense gaze.

Raffaello Sanzio

Along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Raphael ranks among the top three High Renaissance artists. Furthermore, he is regarded by most art historians as one of the best artists of all time. He is probably best known for his large scale altarpiece art - such as The Sistine Madonna (1513-14) and The Transfiguration (1518-20, Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican) - and his decoration of the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican's Papal Apartments. The latter includes such acclaimed Renaissance paintings as La Disputa (The Dispute on the Blessed Sacrament) (1509-11, Stanza della Segnatura) and The School of Athens (1509-11, Stanza della Segnatura).



Other Portraits by Raphael

Portrait of a Man (c.1502) Galleria Borghese, Rome
Elisabetta Gonzaga (c.1503) Uffizi, Florence
Pietro Bembo (c.1504) Szepmuveszeti Múzeum, Budapest
Portrait of a Man (1502-4) Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna
Young Man with an Apple (1505) Uffizi
Portrait of a Woman (La Donna Gravida) (1505-6) Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Lady with a Unicorn (c.1505) Galleria Borghese, Rome
Agnolo Doni (1506) Palazzo Pitti
Maddalena Doni (1506) Palazzo Pitti
Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (c.1507) Uffizi
Portrait of a Cardinal (1510-11) Museo del Prado, Madrid
Portrait of a Youth (c.1509-11) Czartoryski Museum, Cracow
Pope Julius II (1511-12) National Gallery, London
Bindo Altoviti (1512-15) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Pope Leo X with Cardinals (1518) Pitti Palace, Florence
Portrait of a Young Man (c.1515) Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Woman with a Veil (La Donna Velata) (1516) Palazzo Pitti
Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena (c.1516) Palazzo Pitti

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