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Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione
by Raphael, c. 1515.

Baldassare Castiglione was the author of The Courtier, the second most influential book to be written in the Renaissance after Machiavelli’s The Prince.  The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V kept three books on his bedside table: the Bible, The Prince, and The Courtier.

Castiglione Chronology

1478 Baldassare Castiglione born at family estate at Casatico outside Mantova. Castiglione is related to the Gonzaga family that ruled Mantova (Mantua).
1494 Castiglione goes to Milan for his education and is residing at the court of Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice D'Este (sister to Isabella D'Este the Duchess of Mantova) when the French invasion occurs.
1499 Castiglione is in Milan to see the invasion of the French under King Louis XII. Castiglione is disgusted with the sight and with the weakness of Italians in the face of foreigners. This concern will be the life-long preoccupation of Castiglione.
1503 Castiglione in Naples fighting at the side of his Duke, Francesco Gonzaga, as Gonzaga fights for the French allies in their battle with the Spaniards for control of the south. Piero de' Medici dies in this battle. Castiglione is invited to come to Urbino by Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino. Guidobaldo has just been welcomed back by the people of Urbino after the fall of the Borgia family empire at the death of Pope Alexander VI in the summer of 1503. Later Castiglione will write his book The Courtier based on the conversations at the court of Urbino in these years of 1503-1506. Among the exalted guests at the court in these years are the two Medici brothers, Giovanni de' Medici and Giuliano de' Medici.  They live as honored guests at Urbino during their exile from Florence. An important member of the Urbino circle is the Duchess, Elisabetta Gonzaga, who is the sister of Francesco Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantova. This is an important connection since we should remember that Castiglione's primary source of influence is always his relationship to the ruling family of Mantova – the Gonzagas.
1508 Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino dies. The Duchess is plunged into grief as is the whole court. The death of the duke marks the end of the magical world of Urbino as it is immortalized in Castiglione's book The Courtier. It is a brief moment, 1503-1508, during which Urbino seems to be the most elegant and the most cultured court in all of Europe. It is now in the sad period after the duke's death that Castiglione begins his book. It is a book about a lost world.
1510 War in northern Italy as the Pope leads an anti-French coalition. Ferrara is caught in the middle, since it has always maintained a pro-French foreign policy. This attack on Ferrara draws in the Gonzaga family of Mantova. It is the Duchess Isabella's brother who is ruling Ferrara. All the small states of the north worry over any war since they survive only by choosing the right alliance. Mantova is always exposed out in the middle of the Po plain as is its neighbor Ferrara.
1511 Siege of Mirandola. Pope Julius personally leads the siege of the small state that is a key to his battle against Ferrara. Castiglione is there along with much of the fighting class of northern Italy. In January the Pope leads his troops through the breach of the Castle of Mirandola. Ferrara looks doomed. The Gonzaga in Mantova are doing everything they can to surreptitiously aid their friends in Ferrara without enraging the Pope against Mantova too.May. The French arrive in force and relieve Ferrara and conquer Bologna taking the city from papal forces. Pope Julius withdraws in total defeat. The statue of the Pope that Michelangelo had executed is pulled down from its position and smashed into pieces as the crowd cheers.
1512 April. The Battle of Ravenna. The whole map of northern Italy changes again. A definitive confrontation between a huge French army and huge Italian coalition led by Pope Julius. The French win but their victory is so costly that they begin a total withdrawal from northern Italy. August. Congress of Mantova. After the Battle of Ravenna all Italian forces send representatives to Mantova.  For a few days, Castiglione's native state is the center of the international diplomatic world. Everyone is there. The Duchess Isabella presides over this important gathering. One decision made at the congress was that the Medici should have Florence back. Thus Spanish troops march south and aid Giovanni and Giuliano de' Medici to take back Florence on the last day of August 1512. The result is that Machiavelli is soon be out of a job and in prison.
1513 Giovanni de' Medici is elected Pope Leo X. Castiglione is asked to serve as Ambassador to the Vatican from the Court of Urbino. Castiglione has remained close to his friends at Urbino since the death of the Duke. The Duchess Elisabetta remains there giving advice to the new Duke Francescomaria della Rovere (nephew of the former Pope Julius II) and arranging the marriage of her niece to Francescomaria. The security of the state of Urbino is immediately in danger with the election of Giovanni de' Medici to the papacy. He needs a state for his stateless brother Giuliano and even if the court of Urbino had served as his own refuge during his exile, it is a natural target for papal ambition.  The previous pope had eyed Urbino for his own relative. But Pope Julius had been able to arrange its acquisition peacefully with a strategic marriage of his nephew to the sister of the reigning duke. The duke died childless so now in 1513, Francescomaria ruled Urbino. But now his protector, Uncle Julius, was gone and the new pope might just grab Urbino for his own family. Thus the choice of Castiglione as ambassador was the best of all possible choices.  It is Castiglione's responsibility to cajole the pope into protecting the court of Urbino. We should remember that Castiglione is an old friend of the Medici brothers. They had all been together in Urbino during those magical years of 1503-1506. For most of the years after 1513, Castiglione was in Rome functioning in various diplomatic roles. By 1520 he was one of the most respected and most trusted Italians in the world of international diplomacy. He had known all the popes and soon came to know the new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V who was also the King of Spain.
1515 Concordat of Bologna. Pope Leo X meets the new king of France Francis I and together they come to an agreement that creates peace between the pope and France.
1516 January. King Ferdinand of Spain dies and his grandson Charles becomes King of Spain. A new generation is taking over European leadership: Charles, Francis I, and Henry VIII.March. Pope Leo's beloved brother Giuliano dies in the Medici villa in Fiesole. Now the last impediment (Giuliano) to papal designs on Urbino is gone. Giuliano had insisted that the Medici should be loyal and grateful to the house of Urbino that had given them respite in their exile. With Giuliano gone, a less sentimental Pope Leo is ready to pounce on his former friends. June. All the efforts of the Urbino network that included the Estensi in Ferrara and the Gonzaga in Mantova and Castiglione working in Rome fail. Pope Leo X sends papal troops to take Urbino to conquer the small state for his nephew Lorenzo (son of the dead Piero de' Medici). This is the man to whom Machiavelli dedicates The Prince. It is my contention that the book is addressed to Lorenzo as advice on how to rule his new state of Urbino (not Florence). The Duke and Duchess of Urbino run for their lives and are given sanctuary in Mantova by their Gonzaga relatives. Duchess Isabella now has her niece and husband on her hands as the pope hounds them for giving aid to his "enemies." With the Duke and Duchess of Urbino out of their state, their ambassador in Rome is out of a job.  Castiglione finally comes home to Casatico and Mantova to renew his lifelong friendship with the Gonzaga and especially with Isabella. Now he sits down to write his book, The Courtier, that he had started many years before. While at home he delights his devoted mother by finally marrying.  In his thirty-eighth year Castiglione marries Ippolita Torelli.  She is fifteen years old. The marriage is a huge success.
1519 Lorenzo de' Medici, the ruler of Urbino dies. Everyone says that the Medici got what they deserved and Pope Leo is sunken into gloom. Many around him say he is being punished and he concludes they are right. Urbino is once again an open question.
1520 Castiglione is repeatedly in Rome on diplomatic assignments. Raphael dies at the age of 37 and the Pope is destroyed with grief. He and his court believe that the future looks dark.
1521 Giovanni de' Medici, Pope Leo X, dies at the age of 46. Francescomaria della Rovere and his Gonzaga wife return to Urbino as Duke and Duchess and are welcomed with a tumultuous celebration by the Urbinati.
1522 After a brief pontificate of the northerner Adrian VI, Giulio de' Medici is elected Pope Clement VII. For the next seven years, Castiglione will be in Rome almost constantly. This duty is very reluctant. He loves his young wife who has given him two children and he is devastated when she dies in childbirth while he is away. He says he will never forgive himself.  He feels that he should have not been at her side. But his presence in Rome is necessary for his Mantovan and Urbino friends. He knows all the players and is especially close to the new pope whom he has known since their days together in the magic circle of the palace of Urbino in 1503-1506. He also knows the emperor and soon the pope will ask him to take on the most important diplomatic task facing anyone in all of Europe: service as the Vatican ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor ruling from Spain.
1525 Battle of Pavia. Imperial forces defeat the French. The King of France is captured and carted off to Spain to languish in the hands of Charles while his mother raises the ransom. Castiglione is there in Spain watching the whole drama.
1526 Pope Clement VII signs a treaty of alliance with the French. The emperor in Spain is enraged and poor Castiglione has to absorb his wrath at the perfidious pope. Catiglione is shocked at the pope's action and warns that it will bring on a disaster: that France will not protect the papacy and that imperial troops will ravage Italy. Machiavelli is saying the same thing as he watches the same drama from Florence. Both men warn that Italy is heading for a disaster.
1527 May 6. The Sack of Rome. Everything that Machiavelli and Castiglione and Guicciardini had predicted now comes to pass. Rome is subjected to the worst sack in more than a thousand years. For weeks Spanish-Imperial troops, many from Lutheran Germany, hold the Christian capital hostage. One month later, Machiavelli dies in Florence, brokenhearted at the sight of such total chaos – exactly what he had been predicting for years. Castiglione in Spain is also devastated and writes one of the most touching commentaries on the event. The Emperor too is shocked at the behavior of his own forces.
1528 April. The Courtier is finally published by the Aldine Press in Venice.
1529 Baldassare Castiglione, worn out from his ceaseless activity trying to save his pope from his own stupidity, dies in Toledo. The Emperor, who adored him, gives him a state funeral attended by all the grandees of Spain. His body is laid to rest among the heroes and saints of Castile. Later his remains are returned to Mantova and interred in the family chapel.The Emperor remarked: "I tell you that one of the best gentlemen in the world is dead." Charles kept three books on his stand next to his bed: The Bible, The Prince, and The Courtier.


1387 Milan conquers Verona. Milan on the march. Look out Florence!
1390 Siena and Pisa join Milan alliance. Florence increasingly isolated.
1399 Siena and Perugia formally turns gov over to Visconti of Milan. Florence being surrounded.
1400 Milan close to conquering all of northern Italy. Flo independence at risk.
1401 Competition for Bronze doors of Baptistery, Florence. Brunelleschi vs Ghiberti. Subject of Sacrifice of Isaac. Ghiberti wins.
1402 (Jun) Milan defeats Florence-Bologna army. All north Italy open for Milan. (Sep) Gian Galleazzo Visconti ruler of Milan dies. Florence independence saved.
1404 Government of Florence orders guilds to get moving. Guilds rush to complete their statues for Orsanmichele.
1408 Donatello's first major work: David (marble) now in Bargello. Birth of Alessandra Macinghi degli Strozzi (d. 1471)
1409 Brunelleschi and Donatello go to Rome, Study the Roman ruins. They make extensive drawings of Pantheon, bring home to use in Duomo.
1413 Donatello's St Mark for Orsanmichele (Flo), one of most influential works of sculpture in whole of Ren.
1413 Nanni di Banco, sculptor: Four Martyrs for Orsanmichele (Flo).
1416 Ghiberti: St John the Baptist for Orsanmichele (Flo).
1417 Donatello: St George for Orsanmichele (Flo).
1422 Alessandra Macinghi marries Matteo degli Strozzi. Matteo a member of one of the most important and powerful families in Florence.
1420 Brunelleschi appointed: architect for dome of Cathedral of Flo.
1425 Brunelleschi: first painting in West using math "perspective." Masaccio: Brancacci Chapel, Santa Carmine, Florence.
1427 Masaccio: "Trinity" painted in Santa Maria Novella (Flo).
1429 Ghiberti: Second set of doors for Baptistry ("Gates of Paradise")
1430 Medici growing domination. After 1435 Medici triumphant in Florence until 1494.
1433 Enemies of Medici become temporarily dominant in the council of gov and send the head of Medici family, Cosimo de' Medici, into exile (he goes to Venice) During this next year, 1433-1434, a furious fight breaks out within Florentine political circles, pro- and anti-Medici. In the fall of 1434, the Medici finally win.(Pope has been helping, Medici Bank very important for the papacy).
1434 Return of Cosimo de' Medici to Florence in triumph. The Medici now have complete control of the gov instruments for the next thirty years. Those who were part of the anti-Medici circle now pay the price and are exiled. Among the exiles are the Strozzi including Matteo Strozzi who is exiled to Pesaro. Wife Alessandra and children join him. Fra Angelico: "Descent from the Cross" (San Marco).
1435 Death of Matteo Strozzi in exile in Pesaro. His widow Alessandra returns to the Strozzi home in Florence with her children. Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting.
1439 International council of church, East-West, Pope-Patriarch, held in Florence under Brunelleschi's recently completed dome. Florence at center of world of religion and culture at this moment. Greeks bring 100s of precious texts with them and all Flo pressed into service copying during the Ecumenical Council.
1444 Build huge new Palazzo Medici (via Cavour) near San Lorenzo, right in the center of old Florence, demolish many other buildings to do it, biggest private palace to that time in Florence.
1447 Pope Nicholas V, Tuscan pal of the Medici elected to St Peter's chair.
1449 Birth of Lorenzo de' Medici who will take his family and his city to its highest point of cultural and political influence. The half century of his life is Florence's Golden Age.
1450 Piero della Francesca: "Baptism of Christ" (National Gallery).
1451 Birth of Christopher Columbus (Genoa). (d. 1506)
1454 Birth of Amerigo Vespucci in Florence. (d. 1512)
1464 Death of Cosimo de' Medici on Aug 1. Death of Cosimo throws the whole Medici apparatus into confusion. The political machine had been a very personal affair and now Cosimo's son Piero is faced with a crisis for which he is not prepared. He suffers with terrible gout and is often bedridden. The anti-Medici circles organize to overthrow Medici. Death of Pope Pius II, a great friend of the Medici.
1466 March: Death of Francesco Sforza, another friend of the Medici, Sept: Plot against the Medici collapses. Piero de' Medici prevails over his enemy Luca Pitti who had led the anti-Medici movement.
1469 December: Death of Piero de' Medici. Suddenly the leadership of the Medici machine falls into the hands of Lorenzo de' Medici, age 20. Lorenzo will dominate Florentine politics and culture for the next twenty-three years and will die at age forty-three in 1492 from the same desease that had killed his father: gout.
1471 Death of Alessandra degli Strozzi. (b. 1408)
1473 Birth of Nicolaus Copernicus in Poland. (d. 1543)
1475 Birth of Michelangelo. (d. 1564)
1478 (Apr 26) Pazzi Plot in Florence. Plot to assassinate Medici brothers and bring about revolution in Florence, kill Giuliano de' Medici in Cathedral during High Mass as he kneels at altar, but Lorenzo survives. Begins intense enmity between Florence and Papacy which had been in on the plot.
1482 Botticelli: "La Primavera" "Birth of Venus" (now in Uffizi).
1483 Birth of Raphael in Urbino. (d. 1520)
1492 Death of Lorenzo de' Medici (bad news for Florence). Columbus in Caribbean (cant call it "America"-not named yet, named later after Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine).
1494 King Charles VIII of France arrives Italy. Brings largest army into Italy since Roman times. (Nov)Florence: fall of Medici and ascendancy of Savonarola. (Nov)Death of Pico della Mirandola.
1498 (May) Execute Savonarola: Piazza della Signoria (marker still there).
1503 Death of Pope Alexander (Borgia). elect Julius II (patron of Michelangelo-Sistine).
1504 Michelangelo: completion of David, install Piazza della Signoria. Michelangelo goes to Rome (Sistine, Vatican). Raphael soon on way to Rome too (Stanze, Vatican). Leonardo working in Milan. The heroic days of Florentine Renaissance are over. Both Lippi and Botticelli dead by 1510.
1512 Completion of Sistine (Michelangelo) and Stanze (Raphael). Rome new art center of Italy, eclipse of Florence.
1513 Death of Pope Julius. Elect Medici (Giovanni de' Medici, childhood friend of Michelangelo) Pope Leo X, power of Medici now moves to Rome.Florence becomes a puppet of Rome.


1502 Columbus sails on fourth & last voyage to Honduras and Panama. Amerigo Vespucci second voyage to South America, proclaims it is not India but "a new world."
1503 Prince Henry of England marries Princess Catherine of Aragon. Death of Pope Alexander VI (Borgia); Election of Giuliano della Rovere as Pope Julius II. Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa.
1504 Death of Queen Isabella of Castile, Ferdinand now has difficult situation in the control of Spain since he is not the legal heir to Isabella but instead the heiress is their daughter Juana. Raphael paints The Marriage of the Virgin (now in Brera, Milan).
1505 Foundation of Christ's College, Cambridge, by Margaret Countess of Richmond, beginning of the great days of Cambridge with generous royal patronage.
1506 Death of Christopher Columbus.(b. 1451)
1507 Ordination to the priesthood of Martin Luther. Map maker Martin Waldseemuller proposes the new world on maps be named "America" after Amerigo Vespucci of Florence.
1508 Michelangelo in Rome: paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
1509 Henry VIII becomes King of England. (d. 1547)
1510 Martin Luther in Rome as delegate of his monastic order. Death of Botticelli. Passing of the Florentine artistic Renaissance.
1511 Erasmus nominated professor of Greek at Cambridge.
1512 Michelangelo finishes the Sistine Ceiling and Raphael finishes the frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura (School of Athens) next door to the Sistine.
1513 Death of Pope Julius II. Election of Michelangelo's childhood friend from the Medici palace, Giovanni de'Medici as Pope Leo X. Michelangelo finishes Moses for tomb of Pope Julius II.
1515 Death of the King of France Louis XII. succeeded by his nephew Francis I (to 1547). Now begins life long duel between two young kings: Hen VIII and Francis I.
1516 Death of Ferdinand of Spain, his grandson Charles age 16 succeeds to throne of Spain. (His mother Junana supposedly insane is locked up in a monastery for decades to keep her off the throne.)
1517 (Oct 31) Martin Luther, 95 Theses, Begin of Reformation. Luther protests the sale of Indulgences by the church.Coffee arrives in Europe for the first time.
1518 Diet of Augsburg. Luther called before Diet by Cardinal Cajetan. Luther refuses to recant. Raphael paints portrait of Pope Leo with Cardinals (Uffizi). Foundation of the Royal College of Physicians in London. The beginning of modern scientific medicine.
1519 Charles, King of Spain, also elected Holy Roman Emperor at the death of his grandfather Maximilian. Now unites all of Spain, the Low Countries, Ger. and all of new lands of America in one empire. Martin Luther, in Leipzig Disputation: questions infallibility of the Pope. Death of Leonardo da Vinci.Cortes enters Tenochtitlan, capital of Aztec empire, meets Montezuma.
1520 Pope Leo X excommunicates Martin Luther and declares him a heretic. Luther publicly burns the Papal Bull. Reformation is under way. (April 6)Death of Raphael, Rome mourns passing of an age.Magellan on his circumnavigation of globe passes through the Straits of Magellan heads into the Pacific.
1521 Death of Pope Leo X. Magellan killed in the Philippines but the expedition continues and finally reaches Portugal completing first round the world navigation.
1522 Luther finishes his translation into German of the New Testament, Wittenberg printer Hans Lufft begins to print what will be 100,000 copies over the years. Other vernacular translations follow.
1523 Elect Giulio de' Medici: Pope Clement VII (to 1534).
1524 Zurich: Zwingli abolishes the Roman Catholic Mass.
1525 Battle of Pavia. Disaster for France. King Francis I is captured. Spain now in complete control of Italy.
1527 May 5: Sack of Rome. Imperial troops loyal to King of Spain Charles (and Holy Roman Emperor) go crazy and loot the Holy City and kill more than 4,000 inhabitants and steal all the art treasures. The Pope hides in Castel Sant Angelo. Usually cited as the End of the Renaissance.
1528 King Henry VIII begins his proceedings: Requests "divorce" (annulment) from Catherine of Aragon.
1530 In Germany, write the Confession of Augsburg, to unite all of Protestant Germany. Sign the Schmalkaldic League, alliance of all Prot Ger against the Roman Catholic Emperor Charles. Germany at war.
1531 King Henry VIII recognized: Supreme Head of the church in England.
1532 John Calvin: leading the Reformation in France.
1533 ENGLAND: Thomas Cranmer becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. He proclaims marriage of Hen and Cath void and proclaims marriage of Hen and Anne Boleyn lawful. Pope excommunicates Henry. Anne crowned as Queen of England. Birth of daughter Elizabeth to Henry and Anne. FRANCE: Pope Clement VII (Medici) marries his relative Catherina de' Medici to the future King of France, Henry Valois.
1534 King Henry of England makes a final break with Rome and proclaims himself head of his own English Reformed church (Anglican international church=Episcoal in USA). Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. Death of Pope Clement VII, elect Alessandro Farnese as Pope Paul III.
1540 First publish versions of Copernicus' heliocentric theory. Establish the new order of the Jesuits as new troops in the Roman Catholic war with the Protestants.
1543 Publish Copernicus' De Revolutionibus: proposes the sun at the center of the universe.
1545 Convene the Council of Trent as the Roman Catholic Church tries to organize to fight the spreading Reformation (this effort to be known as the Counter Reformation).
1546 Death of Martin Luther. Michelangelo designing the dome of Saint Peter's. Titian paints his portrait of Pope Paul III and his nephews.
1547 Death of Henry VIII: succeeded by his son Edward VI (1537-1553). Death of Francis I of France. succeeded by his son Henry II(1519-1559). Birth of Cervantes(1547-1616).
1549 English church publishes the new Book of Common Prayer (much of which is written by Thomas Cranmer).
1550 Publish Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. Marks new attitude to artists: artists are special, almost divine.
1553 Death of King Edward VI of England: succeeded by his Roman Catholic half-sister Mary.
1554 Queen Mary: marries Philip of Spain, future king.
1555 Elect Giovanni Pietro Caraffa: Pope Paul IV.
1556 Charles V abdicates giving Spain to his son Philip and the Empire to his brother Ferdinand I and retires to a monastery. Queen Mary burns the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer at the stake when he refuses to recant his Protestantism.
1558 Mary Queen of England dies and is succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth as Queen Elizabeth I. Protestant Church of England re-instated. Death of Charles V former King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor.
1564 (Feb)Death of Michelangelo.(b. 1575)
1564 (Feb 15) Birth of Galileo. (d. 1642)
1564 (April 23) Birth of William Shakespeare. (d. 1616)
1568 Revolt of the Protestant Netherlands from control of Spain. Birth of new Protestant Republic of Netherlands and birth of new alliance between the two Protestant countries of Eng and Neth.
1572 Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, Paris: kill thousands of Protestants.
1573 Birth of Caravaggio. (d. 1609)
1585 Shakespeare comes to London.
1586 Unveil the plot to kill Queen Eliz and put Mary Queen of Scots on throne. Mary sentenced to death (executed 1587).
1588 Spanish Armada, Spain's attempt to destroy Protestant England with the cooperation of the Papacy fails. This final blow to idea of reuniting all of Europe under renewed Roman Catholic Papacy. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.
1589 Henry of Navarre becomes King of France as Hen IV. Galileo professor of mathematics at University of Pisa.
1593 King Hen IV converts to Rom Catholicism ("Paris is well worth a mass.")
1594 Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.
1595 Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream.
1596 Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice. Birth of Descartes.
1598 Shakespeare: Henry V.
1599 Shakespeare: Julius Caesar.
1600 Burn Giordano Bruno on the Campo de'Fiori in Rome for heresy. King Henry IV of France marries Marie de' Medici. Shakespeare: Hamlet.
1603 Death of Queen Elizabeth of England. She is succeeded by her cousin James (Stuart) in Scotland.
1610 Galileo, The Starry Messenger, published in Venice. One of the most shocking and exciting works of scientific advance ever experienced in modern Europe. Galileo becomes an overnight sensation, a scientific rock star. Letters pour into Padua from all over Europe.