The Meaning of Sprezzatura in Life and Art in the Sixteenth Century
Sprezzatura, as a word to describe art and life in the Italian High Renaissance, is a complicated concept. Its meaning is difficult to determine. Paradoxical in nature, with positive and negative connotations, it does well to act as an adjective of the elaborate structure of sixteenth century society. Aristocrats desired to possess it and artists strove to depict it. As the subject of Baldassare Castiglione's influential Book of the Courtier, it was a simultaneous reflection of the Renaissance man as a graceful performer and a superficial manipulator. In society, as in art, the emphasis was on effect, on convincing an audience or a viewer that impressive actions required little effort. The value of sprezzatura originated in antiquity, and Renaissance society combined it with Christian virtues to create the perfect man. Although the word was both contradictory and indefinable, it was the standard of successful behavior towards which sixteenth century social climbers strove. Grace was not only limited to daily High Renaissance life, but extended to art as well--from Vasari, Raphael and Leonardo in the High Renaissance to the later development of mannerism.