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Assumed simplicity and the critique of nobility: Or, how Castiglione read Cicero

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jennifer Richards


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In Book 1 of Castiglione's "Il Libro del Cortegiano" Lodovico da Canossa's "sprezzatura" - embodied in his pretended inability to teach us how to be perfect courtiers - is usually seen as consonant with the treatise's aristocratic bias, especially among its Anglophone readers. In this essay, I argue that study of Cicero's use of "dissimulatio" - or "assumed simplicity" - in "De Oratore" helps us to understand the importance of indirection as a critical tool. I apply this insight to Canossa's apparently conservative treatment of nobility, and show how his "sprezzatura" demystifies (rather than mystifies) the source of noble self-expression. Canossa's "sprezzatura" reveals how "imitatio" can replace heredity as a means to elite status.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Richards J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Renaissance Quarterly

Year: 2001

Volume: 54

Issue: 2

Pages: 460-486

ISSN (print): 0034-4338

ISSN (electronic): 1935-0236

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.2307/3176784


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