The subject arranges himself like a pyramid dominating the centre of the picture, his hands carefully folded in on themselves, his watery eyes looking out plaintively over a leonine beard and a doublet trimmed with ribbon and rich fur. Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione is not merely a testament to the ferocious skill of the artist, it is also a 32-inch by 26-inch expression of its subject’s greatest dictum – sprezzatura.
Sprezzatura means nonchalance and spirit, the appearance of unstudied cool and the purposefully broken rule, and Castiglione, a man of ornate scholarship, minted it himself in his 1528 essay on courtly manner, The Book of the Courtier. The word and sentiment behind it soon spread across Italy like a drop of oil on water. To embody it was the aspiration of courtiers from Mantua to Florence. It soon reached Germany and later its attainment was an occupation in itself for the Regency dandies who drifted like galleons up and down Piccadilly.
One sees it in Gianni Agnelli and the watch he would wear over his shirt cuff and the flower in David Niven’s button hole. It is the principle which guides the hands which cuts the cloth at Chittleborough & Morgan and those that made the curves of JD Classics’ cars. It is the thinking man’s guide - and the finest way to live a life.