Castiglione’s text is written in the form of a dialogue taking place over four consecutive days in 1507 between a group of courtiers and courtly ladies. The setting is the Duchy of Urbino, a tiny but beautiful location in the mountainous Marche region. Early in the book, this locus amoenus is described by the author in glowing terms as a most lovely and fertile terrain. He reserves particular praise for the rulers of the tiny principality, who had at one time employed Castiglione.
The dialogue is divided into four books: the first two deal with the attributes of the perfect courtier; Book III discusses the courtier’s companion, the courtly lady (‘donna di palazzo’, literally ‘palace lady’); and in Book IV the discussants debate the courtier’s purpose or end, which should be to guide the prince towards virtue.
Baldassare Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano (Venice: Aldo Manuzio and Andrea Torresano, 1528), sig. a1v. Cambridge University Library, F152.b.2.5.