Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, created around 1514-15, is widely recognized as one of the greatest Renaissance paintings. Castiglione was a humanist and diplomat who embodied the quintessential High Renaissance gentleman. In the painting, he is depicted in a pyramidal composition, seated in an armchair with his hands folded and gazing directly at the viewer. The soft luminescence surrounding the portrait pays subtle homage to the Mona Lisa.
Castiglione wears an elegant yet understated luxurious costume. He appears vulnerable and sensitive; artfully yielding clothes convey intimacy that serves to emphasize Raphael’s technical skill as a portraitist. Though this type of representation was common during Raphael’s time period, his passion for this particular subject matter shines through.
Beyond its aesthetic value and artistic excellence, there may have been a practical purpose for creating such portraits; it is believed that Castiglione commissioned Raphael to paint it before leaving for Rome without his family. He likely imagined them taking solace in its depiction while he was away from home.
Overall, this painting tells us much about both Castiglione and Raphael’s skills as artists during Renaissance Italy. Dubouchet ideally captures what many consider one of the most celebrated sixteenth-century portraits by faithfully reproducing it through meticulous engraving techniques. The reputation of Baldassare Castiglione rests heavily on his writings in The Book of Courtier – which was comprised mostly fiction tales set within Urbino ducal palace walls – but it is also thanks to artworks like this masterpiece that ensure people continue discussing him centuries later.\