The Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione's classic account of Renaissance court life, offers profound insight into the refined behavior which defined the era's ruling class.
The courtly customs and manners of Italy to a great extent characterized the Renaissance, which elevated art and expression to new heights. Baldassare Castiglione published this book with the intention of chronicling the manners, customs and traditions which underpinned how courtiers, nobles, and their servants, behaved.
Although ostensibly a book of etiquette and good conduct, Castiglione's treatise carries enormous historical value. He derived his observations directly from the many gatherings and receptions conducted by society's elite. Conversations with the officials, diplomats and nobility of the era further enhanced the accuracy of this book, imbuing it with an authenticity seldom seen elsewhere.
What other purpose lays behind this work? Castiglione presided over an epoch where cultural and artistic upheavals led to consequent change upon the social atmosphere of the time. Whereas in the Middle Ages members of upper society were encouraged to learn combat and foreign languages, in the Renaissance an esoteric encouragement of art, philosophy, history and the classical culture were added to this repertoire. Thus, Castiglione is chronicling a sea change in how the upper strata of Europe behaved; a change which undoubtedly affected humankind's overall development.
A broadening of education led to the culture we may witness in this exceptional and thorough manual. It is through reading The Book of the Courtier that the germinal seeds of modern gentlemanly and ladylike conduct may be witnessed taking sprout, as a direct result of the rebirth.