The development of humanism was a remarkable feature of the epoch of Renaissance and the epoch of Enlightenment. In fact, it was the time, when people freed themselves of religious biases and boundaries which limited their eyesight to the religious domain solely. Instead, they had started to explore the real world, the world of science, where human played the main part. In such a context, the development of humanism contributed to the reevaluation of a traditional view on a human being as a weak, helpless creature of the almighty God. In stark contrast, humanists and philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment viewed human as a patron who is able to be free in his decisions and actions and, what is more, he even had a power to create which was traditionally attributed to God solely. As a result, an enlightened patron became one of the ideals of leading thinkers and humanists of that historical period, such as Leon Batista Alberti, Giovanni Pico Della Miraondolla, and Balthasar Castiglione, even though the latter was a literary figure active at the court of Urbino. In this respect, the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione by Raphael may be viewed a sample of an ideal patron, as leading humanists of that time believed him to be.
On analyzing the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione, it should be said that Raphael intentionally depicts him in mainly black and white colors.
In such a way, through the contrast of dark and light colors, the painter shows that dubious nature of human being. In the context of humanist ideals, it is possible to speak about the contrast between human mind and human nature or human instincts which are in a permanent conflict. However, the portrait shows a person whose internal world is apparently balanced since he is calm and his eyes and face radiate wisdom and self-assuredness. Therefore, the painter apparently attempted to show that Balthasar Castiglione was an educated and reasonable man, a patron who could control his emotions and instincts. Probably, it was an attempt to show the power of human mind.
In such a context, it is quite symbolic that Raphael depicts the portrait of an experienced patron of the middle age. In fact, his age is another marker of his wisdom and education, which were idealized by humanists. His clothes is neat and clean that indicates to his social status and noble habits, which were typical for aristocracy or court men, such as Balthasar Castiglione. Consequently, the painting shows an ideal patron, who is well-educated and has a high social status, but he does not demonstrate his wealth. He is not showing off by any means. Instead, he is deliberately modest, calm, and self-assured.
Remarkably, the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione is deprived of any religious of any religious symbols, which were typical for visual art of the Middle Ages. In fact, the presence of religious motives could be traced in practically any work of art created in the Middle Ages. Instead, the Renaissance and Enlightenment brought a new type of an ideal patron, who is human above all, while his religiosity and beliefs are secondary compared to his human nature and to the power of his mind, which were apparently superior to humanists (Roberts, 2003). In fact, human mind and human power were major concerns of humanists since they believed that people are not fable creatures, but they are independent and able to act independently of God or any other supernatural power.
In this respect, the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione by Raphael perfectly conveys the idea of Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, who believed in the existence of free will in humans. To put it more precisely, in his “Oration on the Dignity of Man”¯, he argued that people can take decisions and act on their own, on the ground of their free will (Roberts, 2003). In such a way, he believed that people can make choices in their life and define their life independently form the will of God. Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola challenged religious beliefs which dominated in the past and which had faded away during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In fact, his humanists ideals put the patron as well as human at large in the center of the universe, as the creature that is free to act as he wills.
Obviously, this idea opposed to the religious belief in the overwhelming power of God and inability of humans to violate or change the will of God. According, to tradition religious views, humans’ fate was defined beforehand by the God and people could only hope for the God’s goodness to improve their life or decrease their sufferings (Hale, 1993). Moreover, Giovanni Della Mirandola stand on the ground that, even though man was created by God, he still was not a voiceless, powerless creature. In stark contrast, he lays emphasis on the fact that a man can create and act as he wills. Hence, the calmness and boldness of the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione, who seems to be undisturbed by calamities he could have faced in his life. He seems to be certain in his power and abilities to surmount all the problems he faces.
At the same time, humanists did not view human abilities to create and act independently as innate abilities solely. Instead, they believed that education contributed consistently to the formation of an individual’s free will. In fact, adequate and correct choices made by humans are possible only on the condition that they have a good education (Hale, 1993). In this respect, it is possible to refer to ideas of Leon Batista Alberti who insisted on the education for children. He believed that education people get in their childhood and in the course of their life is essential to be a good patron. In such a context, the wisdom of Balthasar Castiglione that can be seen in the portrait is apparently the effect of his education.
On the other hand, it is important to remember about his personal experience and his knowledge of life which he acquired while been at the court of Urbino (Roberts, 2003). Basically, Balthasar Castiglione insisted that a good courtier and an ideal patron should a cool mind and proper bearing and gestures. His portrait mirrors all these characteristics of an ideal patron, which he apparently attempted to develop in himself and he definitely succeeded in this regard.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione is a portrait of an ideal patron from the point of view of humanists.
He is a noble man, who has education, experience, wisdom; he is self-assured and his bearing and gestures proves his nobility. Hence, the portrait of Balthasar Castiglione personifies an ideal patron of humanists.