What is Sprezzatura?

Italy.  Say the word and many things come to mind.  What comes to mind for you depends upon your experiences or your desires.

Sprezzatura is an Italian word that describes a combination of traits.  Like so many Italian words, it’s difficult to precisely translate into English.  Think about the word grace.  It embodies many things, many characteristics, that all come together to mean this thing we know as grace.

Definition

Sprezzatura was coined by the Italian writer Baldassare Castiglione in his book “The Book of the Courtier” which was published in 1528.  It’s the story of the court of the Duke of Urbino in which Castiglione describes the ideal courtisan as one who can “practice in all things a certain nonchalance (sprezzatura) which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless”.

Applications to Italian Life

This can apply to many things – art and athletics immediately come to mind – but I use it to refer to the Italian culture.  They have a nonchalant attitude about so much in life – cooking, eating, creating, style.  Take an Italian woman who walks across the uneven and potentially treacherous cobblestone streets in high heels without so much as a wobble.  Or the Italian man who wears his European-cut suit with an open collared shirt like a second skin with never a wrinkle.  Or the Italian nonna who rolls out pasta paper thin and then manipulates it into intricate shapes for her family’s meals.  Or even the majestic Pantheon that sits amid a hubbub of modern activity in its ancient splendor.

What it Means to Me

There’s just something about Italy and Italians that exude sprezzatura.  They have an ingrained history of creating art, music, food, and style that has morphed into this confidence of their place in the world.  Think of all the societal change Italy has seen over the centuries.  Wars, famine, destruction – all these things combine in the collective consciousness to create the soul of this place.  That’s what Sprezzatura really means to me.

I learned very early on in my travels here that I would never be mistaken for an Italian.  Forget my blue eyes, fair skin, and Southern accent.  There’s a quality that Italians have that I can’t imitate.  It’s an attitude, but it’s so much more.  It’s part of them and they don’t even know they have it.

Come to Italy to experience sprezzatura for yourself, y’all.  You’ll be glad you did.


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