In Praise of Sprezzatura: The Compleat Gentleman Giveaway

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 14, 2009 · 169 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Brad Miner. Mr. Miner is the author of The Compleat Gentleman. For a chance to win his book, see the details below.

What was once called sprezzatura, a wonderful word coined by the sixteenth-century writer Baldassare Castiglione, is a kind of graceful restraint that is an elemental characteristic of true civility. It helped define Western ideas about the gentleman, and it helped strangers to manage the slow transition to friendship.

Castiglione was an advisor to Popes Leo X and Clement VII, and to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier appeared in 1528, but it has surprising freshness today. It was considered revolutionary in its time, and yet Castiglione’s take on manliness owed much to Aristotle and Cicero. The ideal courtier was to have Aristotelian arete, which is to say excellence. An aristos (whence our word aristocrat) was educated in the best ideas and tempered by training to possess the best impulses, martial and artistic. He was, in Jacob Burckhardt’s phrase, engaged in “self-fashioning.” For Aristotle — and for men of the Renaissance such as Castiglione and Shakespeare — the standard for self-fashioning was the “golden mean,” the center between extremes. As Peter Burke explains: “Courage is defined as the mean between rashness and cowardice, liberality as the mean between extravagance and parsimony, and so on.” From Cicero, Castiglione took the Stoic concept of neglentia diligens (studied negligence), an obvious precursor to sprezzatura. And like many writers of his period, Castiglione respected Ovid’s famous observation, “Ars est celare artem.”

The purpose of art is to conceal itself.

Castiglione advocates such “art” in the formation of the gentleman, but his critics say he means pretense or dishonesty, and Castiglione’s courtier has come down to us as a superficial fellow content to fake it if he can — so long as the deception is shrewd.

Sprezzatura in Practice

No one is born a gentleman. Becoming one is a matter of education, and Castiglione’s “art” is really the practice of the principles that when finally internalized create the man whose urbanity, wit, athleticism, and restraint have sunk into his sinews.

A gentleman practices sprezzatura so that he can get it right. Confucius said that “although the gentleman may not have attained goodness, he acts in such a way so that he might become good.”

Developing sprezzatura is a worthy challenge in a culture that discourages and is suspicious of discretion and restraint. Many people are simply aghast at taciturnity. We tend to distrust anyone we suspect of not being “open.”

But the whole point of restraint, and the etiquette supporting it, is to give us a chance to negotiate slowly and carefully the difference between being strangers and becoming friends.

The handshake developed as a way strangers could show themselves unarmed. It was a sensible and cautious first step towards friendship. We do well to remember that intimacy must be a process, a negotiation, and that who meets a stranger and jumps quickly into bed, so to speak, has a better than even chance of waking up next to an enemy.

The ability to pause before acting and then to act sensibly is manifest prudence, which is the first among the cardinal virtues.

A man who has sprezzatura is content to keep his own counsel. He not only does not need to have his motives understood, he prefers that they not be understood. His actions, including his carefully chosen words, speak for him. It is not necessary for others—save his intimates—to know more.

Although it is not specifically a reason for embracing circumspection, it so happens that a discrete gentleman amasses, over time, a tremendous edge in the affairs of this world. He hears things that others do not, because people of all sorts confide in him, knowing that he will not betray their trust. The knowledge of the human heart that the compleat gentleman thus develops can be a burden, but it is also something of a liberation. It may call upon every bit of his strength to restrain himself from saying or doing more than he ought with knowledge gained from friendship, but there it is.

The art (and depth) of sprezzatura is defined by a man’s power: the stronger and wiser he is, the gentler his manner and the more circumspect his speech; the more, in other words, his true self is hidden.

Of course there is more to sprezzatura than just restraint. There is the quality people refer to when a man is called suave. Cary Grant was usually a gentleman in his film roles because he seemed able to do difficult things with ease and because he seemed a “man of the world,” not only suave but urbane as well. One could not imagine him saying anything inappropriate, and it was inconceivable that he would blurt out an intimacy, perhaps not even to an intimate friend. He knew the difference between a true friend, an acquaintance, and a stranger.

Implicit in sprezzatura is not only an effortless elegance but also a strenuous self-control. In the end, to be a gentleman is to hold Stoically, quietly to the conviction that he not be seen doing his “gentlemanly thing.” Silence really is golden. As Cervantes has Sancho Panza put it: “A closed mouth catches no flies.”

The Compleat Gentleman Giveaway

The Compleat Gentleman - small 3

Intrigued by the concept of sprezzatura? Want to know more about the virtues and attributes that every man should seek to cultivate? Enter to win a copy of Brad Miner’s The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry. Mr. Miner reaches back in time to recover the oldest and best ideals of manhood. The book explored the roles every man should embody: warrior (a readiness to face battle for a just cause), lover (he lets a woman be what she wants to be) and monk (a man possessing true knowledge).

We’re giving away 2 copies of The Compleat Gentleman to AoM readers. To enter to win, leave a comment about a figure, historical or present day, famous or not, fictional or real, who either showed a mastery of the art of sprezzatura or an embarrassing disregard for it.

Contest ends Friday, July 17, 2009 at 11PM CST.

As usual, I’ll randomly pick two people from the entries.

1 Brian July 14, 2009 at 9:26 am

I feel that a stellar example of sprezzatura and manliness in general is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Famed as the commander of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg he was also fluent in nine languages other than English and as a proffesor of rhetoric at Bowdain College knew well the power of a well measured word. He also knew however that action was far more powerful than words and it was his gallantry in battle at Gettysburg and elsewhere that earned him the loyalty and trust of his men. However I think the most poignant example of gentlemanly conduct on the part of Chamberlain took place during the Confederate surrender at Appomatix. Chamberlain had been selected to oversee the parade of Confederate infantry coming to surrender their weapons and battle standards. On his own initiative, he ordered his men to come to attention and carry arms as a show of respect to their defeated enemies. I feel that respect for all those who have earned it, even in defeat is a mark of a gentleman.

2 Johan July 14, 2009 at 9:36 am

Humphrey Bogart! Not the way people saw him on the stage or silver screen but the way he was in real life.

A true gentleman he never accepted a lie, always treated people well. He raised his son together with his wife Bacall in a way most men only wish they could, knowing that his son would be the one bringing their family name on throughout history and by so he must raise his son the way he himself was raised… A true gentleman.
He stayed faithful to his wife.
He was always ready to defend himself and others he knew,
and he possessed knowledge, that I, dream of having.

3 Ryan July 14, 2009 at 9:36 am

James Bond

4 Dan July 14, 2009 at 10:10 am

I would say the embarassing opposite of Sprezzatura are 9 out of 10 Twitter-users…. No restraint, no discretion, filling space with endless and meaningless chatter. Twitter-users are the opposite of Cary Grant’s quiet sophistication and aura of mystery.

5 Alex July 14, 2009 at 10:17 am

@Brian – I just graduated from Bowdoin!! Good to see it mentioned.

I was thinking that any of the feudal Samurai could fit into the definition of gentlemen. Most followed a strict social and militaristic code, that while not the same as Sprezzatura, certainly had similar effects.

6 Jared C.W. July 14, 2009 at 10:26 am

The first man to come to my mind was Sir Richard Francis Burton. I had never heard of the man before the article was posted on this site, but since then, have become highly interested in both his character, and his life as an explorer.

7 keith July 14, 2009 at 10:33 am

Chris Brown

8 paul Thompson July 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

Atticus Finch has Sprezzatura more than any man I’ve heard of – he is an ideal role model for any man, and displays every quality written about in the article. I still find i unbelievable that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was written by a woman, yet contains such a perfect example of true manliness.

9 Paul July 14, 2009 at 10:41 am

General Patton had a disregard for, even a contempt of, sprezzatura. He was a man of shock and awe; who moved boldly and strongly but rarely with discretion or restraint.

10 Brandon Tyler July 14, 2009 at 10:43 am

My pastor back in College Station was quiet but always kept us on track. He steadily beat the drum of helping others in the their relationship with Jesus. Great man.

11 Jack July 14, 2009 at 10:43 am

For embarrassing lack: Mark Sanford. Holy Hell! His weepy, rambling news conference. His saying that his affair was more than an affair that it was a true love story, and that his mistress was his soul mate. It was like watching the death of manliness right there. No reserve or sense of propriety whatsoever.

12 Heather July 14, 2009 at 10:53 am

Another individual who demonstrated a lack of sprezzatura: Bill Clinton. While he is obviously an intelligent man, his tendency to make everyone immediately feel like an intimate friend was both a strength in his field of politics and his greatest weakness. If he could have balanced his intelligence with even a modicum of circumspection, he could have avoided some disastrous personal and political decisions. Instead he became a classic Greek tragedy: taken down by his own weaknesses.

13 Bjorn July 14, 2009 at 11:00 am

This reminds me of Proverbs 22:3
The prudent sees danger and hides himself,but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Ecclesiastes 5:3 (New Living Translation)
Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.

Cary Grant is who comes to mind for me. This looks like an interesting book! I agree with Dan that Twitter is the opposite!

14 Matt July 14, 2009 at 11:02 am

For my fellow (original) Tom Clancy fans, I would say that Jack Ryan Sr. did his best to show sprezzatura, though like any human, he was fallible and probably not the best example, but one that sticks out in my mind.

15 Tom July 14, 2009 at 11:14 am

Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, King of Jordan, shows spressatura. A true renaissance man, check out his Wiki article.

16 Corey July 14, 2009 at 11:15 am

Kimbei, the lead samurai in the (excellent) film Seven Samurai.

17 Darrell July 14, 2009 at 11:15 am

For a polar opposite of sprezzatura you’d be hard pressed to find a more glaring example than any of the characters played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Not only do these characters speak and act imprudently to anyone and everyone, they revel in it as a form of comic expression.

18 Brandon July 14, 2009 at 11:17 am

Bruno from the recent movie shows a embarrassing disregard for sprezzatura!

Love your site by the way.

19 Eric July 14, 2009 at 11:17 am

In the film 300, the Spartans watch as Zeus wreaks havoc upon the Persian ships at sea. While the soldiers glory in the destruction, the narrator notes that only one among them kept his Spartan calm: Leonidas.

How’s the 30 Days ebook coming?

20 Geoff July 14, 2009 at 11:18 am

A more recent example – Richard Feynman. A prime example of the acquired nature of sprezzatura, he learned the art of being a gentleman over the course of his life.

21 Jim July 14, 2009 at 11:23 am

T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) embodied so many good qualities, this among them…

22 Mark Roberts July 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

I’m gonna go with disregard and a short Youtube clip. Recently President Barack Obama went to Russia and got snubbed by a number of Russians in the handshake line… gentlemanly fail on their part. I may not be the president’s biggest fan but I would at least be a gentleman enough to be polite and shake his hand.

23 Chuck July 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

I would nominate our Congress for showing true sprezzatura in historical times and nominate many of it’s members now for showing a true lack of sprezzatura in recent times. This is an interesting qaundry. “Back in the Day” our political figures for the most part exhibited true sprezzatura in their mannerism, tact, respect and overall zeal for their elected positions and their constituents. As history as unfolded so have our political figures in terms of sprezzatura….like tents. I don’t know when it really began to fall apart but perhaps a good transitional figure would be Jack Kennedy. A man who had all the tools to exhibit true sprezzatura but whose faults crept into the public eye via the media (AND HELL THE MEDIA IS THE WORST AT EXHIBITING TRUE SPREZZATURA). Since that time Katie bar the door…..our polticial figures have gone off the deep end. Lying, stealing cheating from their constituents and more importantly their spouses and only expressing any sort of remorse when they get caught. And once caught instead of taking it like a man/woman they become blubbering idiots…where have all the True Gentlemen of Politics Gone…Cue the crickets.

24 Ryan July 14, 2009 at 11:28 am

Tokugawa Ieyasu in “Abarembo Shogun” a Japanese television show that played briefly in Canada showed the shogun as a prime example of sprezzatura. The Japanese idea of Bushido is remarkably compatible with Castiglione’s sprezzatura.

25 Luke July 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

In The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway displays these qualities well. He does use discretion in his relations with Jordan, and is weary to not become too intimate in a time of such classic unrest and intemperance leading to the Stock Market Crash and Great Depression. He was still a classic gentleman as he performed much the role of an observer to the action with Gatsby and Daisy, whose lack of the above qualities such as tact and restraint led to a rather morbid ending of a man lost in his own self-satisfying pursuit. There is nothing less satisfying than the pursuit of one’s own happiness.

26 Ken July 14, 2009 at 11:31 am

My father continues to model sprezzatura, now in his seventies. He is a man of few words… but when he speaks, we listen and when he acts… it is with confidence and beyond reproach. He does not believe in idle phone conversations, so when he calls… I know it’s important. He does not say anything that he doesn’t mean and notes everything said and done in his presence. When he pays a compliment, it has been earned. He carries himself with a certain dignity that demands the respect and trust of complete strangers. It amazes me… how a man who seemingly communicates so little… actually communicates so much.

27 Jacob M. July 14, 2009 at 11:43 am

Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example of sprezzatura not only our of principle, but out of necessity. His singular ability for discretion paid off when it furthered his cases and gave him an enviable reputation throughout Europe. Holmes often confided only in his doctor companion–and even he was at times left in the dark. This quality contributed to his overall sense of mystery and his gentlemanly stature, although I’m sure the practice of bartitsu didn’t hurt either.

28 MadMolecule July 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

Well, Jim beat me to Lawrence of Arabia, so I’ll go with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

29 Aaron W. July 14, 2009 at 11:54 am

My vote is for Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. His steadfastness in his Faith, his faithfulness to his wife of many years, a goodly father to his sons and daughters, and his bravery and comprehension of battle tactics won many battles and the respect of his fellow officers and men under his command. There was a very good reason he was Robert E Lee’s right hand man. (Incidentally R.E. Lee would be a good candidate himself) My wife and I revere him so that our son is named for him.

30 Nick July 14, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I would say that Merlin would be a good example of depicting sprezzatura. Although there are countless descriptions and stories about Merlin, most of the versions (at least that I have read) describe his raising of a young Arthur to be very subtle. Continually challenging the boy to solve problems and think for himself, only giving hints when absolutely necessary, despite the fact that the man knows the answers all along is a great example of sprezzatura.

31 Chaka July 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I’ll go for the Sunday school answer on this one: Jesus Christ. See John 2:23-25; 1 Peter 2:23.

32 Jordan Walker July 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm

To point out a politician who is an example of sprezzatura, Ronald Reagan. His strength came at a time when the country truly needed it. He was humble and comforting. True sprezzatura.

33 EdG July 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Atticus Finch from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ sums it up. A true gentleman, willing to step up for what is right, regardless of the popular sentiment. Gracious to women, children, and the less fortunate and able to speak truth to power.

34 Bryce July 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

From fiction – Doc Savage. He was ever the gentleman, kind to everyone, he was strong, fast, silent, and no one ever knew what he was really thinking or what his genius plan was until after he had enacted it. He discussed important things when he had to, and the rest of the time, he made his own decisions.

From real life – George Washington. His intimate friends may have known about his depressions, but he never showed them to his troops. His men could always see him as a steadfast leader. The kind of leader that the U.S. needs as it sought independence.

35 Nick Moore July 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm

For a complete lack of discretion look no further than Brock Lesner’s comments and actions after winning his recent fight. “Frank Mir had a horseshoe up his ass. I told him that a year ago. I pulled it out of him and beat him over the head with it. I’m going to drink a Coors Light. That’s right a Coors. Bud Light don’t pay me nothing. I may even get on top of my wife tonight.”

For an unexpected example of the subtleness and character that embodies the spirit of Sprezzatura look to the Tank Man, the unknown man who was “ready to fight” and subtly showed his position by calmly halting a line of tanks in Tiananmen square. That was a man that owned who he was and what he stood for and did it in a way that ade the boldest of statements but in an understated manner.

Proverbs 14:3 A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them.

Thanks for work on the website Brett. Very thoght provoking. I’ve gleaned some nugget of wisdom from most everything I’ve read on this site.

36 Quinn July 14, 2009 at 12:21 pm

On the issue of American leaders I would say Aaron Burr was one of the first politicians to lack sprezzatura. His rivalry and contempt for Alexander Hamilton was completely open to the public, not that Hamilton wasn’t a hot head himself. Even when they dueled Hamilton planned to just shoot at the ground, but Burr didn’t hide the fact that he planned to shoot to kill, and kill he did. Truly the first disgraceful politician in America’s history.

37 Scott July 14, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Abraham Lincoln, in particular his dealings with Gen. McClellan, whom he had to replace with Burnside. A lesser man would have raged at McClellan’s failures, demanded an explanation, or humiliated him publicly. Lincoln’s letters show quiet restraint and resolve to do what he thought best for the country.

38 Steve July 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

My grandfather, Mark Argyle, was a compleat gentleman. Raised on a farm in the Mountain West, he put himself through school by hunting ducks and geese for a local butcher. He was a star athlete in college, playing football and baseball. He brought his young family through the Great Depression by teaching school by day and working nights at a cannery. On the day of his retirement as a Jr. High Principal at age 65, he visited the boys PE class and did 5 head stand pushups. He served as a lay clergyman for his church for 15 years. He taught me how to whittle, shoot, fish, build a fire, and grow a garden. He also taught me quiet dignity. As an example of his sprezzatura, I’ll relate a story my father told me. On a family vacation, driving through Colorado sometime in the late ’40s, Grandpa was involved in a minor car accident. While meeting with an insurance adjuster, the agent told Grandpa that if they altered the accident report just a little, he could disburse a $300 claim on the spot. Grandpa listened quietly, asked a question or two, then politely said “No thank you.” As they left the insurance office, my father, then a young teen, heard Grandpa mutter under his breath, “Nobody’s going to make a liar out of me for 300 bucks!”

39 Gray Miller July 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I would nominate Robert Heinlein, an author whose characters embodied many a manly trait. He was a true renaissance man, and while he was passionate about many causes (including blood drives) he was also a patriot, a futurist, and could write rollicking good stories.

Love this article, btw. I don’t always agree with some of your opinions, but I always find them interesting, and this one especially resonated. Well done.

40 H man July 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Some good examples above,

I would add from history

Dwight Eisenhower ,winning general, the president who warned us of the military industrial complex and a gentleman able to deal with strong prickly personalities to get the job done.

The anti-sprezzatura, the men on day time television “talk” shows.

41 B. D. Buie July 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I will say the Prince of Preachers, C. H. Spurgeon. Here are a few quotes from the man that help drive the point home:

“Never talk of what you have done, but go on to something else. An officer rode up to his general, and said, ‘Sir, we have taken two guns from the enemy.’ ‘It is well,’ said the general, ‘take two more.’” -C. H. Spurgeon

“The man who never reads will never be read. He who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. My books are my tools. They also serve as my counsel, my consolation, and my comfort. They are my source of wisdom and the font of my education. They are my friends and my delights. They are my surety, when all else is awry, that I have set my confidence in the substantial things of truth and right.” -C. H. Spurgeon

42 Sean July 14, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Han Solo, at first glance I might say not so sprezzatura, however what looks like a lack of restraint is merely a cover of a rather suave, hidden individual.

Maybe I’m off, clearly I’m in need of this book.

43 David July 14, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Robert E. Lee. It’s true that he has been idolized to a ridiculous degree, but he was still, in almost every way, a true gentleman. We can debate his decision to fight for the Confederacy, but he made his decision based on what he thought was right after a long personal debate. In defeat he showed great dignity and humility. His opponent, U.S. Grant, was another example, showing equal humility and dignity in victory.

44 Derek July 14, 2009 at 1:16 pm

I would have to say Robert E Lee. When I was at West Point we naturally studied the American Civil War. I went into History with very little idea of why this man would abandon the United States to fight and lead the Confederate States Army. Here was a man who stood for what he believed in and did what he felt was right even though he disagreed with Virgina’s secession. He epitomized “Duty, Honor, Country” and I believe instilled it in many that followed him. Even at the very end, Grant allowed Lee to keep his saber and Traveller, his horse. By the way, I’m from Arizona so don’t really have any hero worship of Confederate leaders; I just admired the man for being, well, a man.

45 Patrick Bateman July 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I would say Dr. James Jones Jr. is the a premier example of a current day gentleman and a true stalwart man. Dr. Jones is currently President of Trinity College in Hartford, CT

46 Greg July 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Two gentlemen with mastery of sprezzatura came immediately to mind: Sergei Ivanov, AKA Socrates in Dan Millman’s “Peaceful Warrior” books, and Edward R. Murrow, famed broadcaster.

47 Wang Yip July 14, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I would say Franz Liszt. What a showman, practicing sprezzatura through the medium of music. His pieces (and I had the good fortune to play one of his pieces) are extremely difficult but beautiful – somehow, Liszt made playing the most technically challenging music easy. He even shaped the way we all play the piano today at concerts, angling the piano so that the audience can watch his hands run and leap smoothly over the keys.

48 mike July 14, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Maybe the most overlooked would be the gentleman’s gentleman. A fantastic example would be the role of Alfred in the Batman / Dark Knight series.

49 John July 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

As a high school teacher, it is really frustrating to me to see the total lack of manners and ettiquette in our youth. It’s fashionable to be coarse, crass, vulgar, and unkempt. “Dressing up” for some of these slobs is ironing a crease down the middle of their egregiously baggy pants. I’m only 30, so I have a pretty firm connection to the youth, but it’s getting pretty ridiculous.

50 John July 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Benjamin Franklin was pretty good at sprezzatura. His “air of diffidence” is a technique I have tried to imitate (with some success) and he, despite his various moral failings, is well remembered as one of the Founding Fathers, an obvious example of sprezzatura working in his favor.

51 John July 14, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I second the James Bond comment, too.

But we also can’t forget MacGyver!

52 James July 14, 2009 at 1:48 pm

You may disagree with his politics, but Barack Obama has sprezzatura in spades. Extremely intelligent, extremely well-spoken, a man who carefully chooses what he will say. He’s reserved for a politician, you feel like you don’t completely know what he’s thinking. Now Joe Biden…….

53 Daetan B. Huck July 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Thanks, Brett and Kate! I had never heard of the sprezzatura before today — another great example of gentlemanly conduct. An exemplary sprezzatura in my life is Prof. Ratnesh Nagda at the University of Washington in the School of Social Work. I thought that he was reserved and soft-spoken when I first met him, and after I got to know him after a year, I realized that his character is buttressed by an iron rod of commitment and integrity. He works to build alliances across races and gender to deconstruct racial and gender oppression. He certainly is a sprezzatura – a scholar, a companion, and a warrior of change!

54 Jared W July 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm

How about Louis L’Amour? He left home and high school early in his life and worked his way around the world as a drifter, miner, sailor, and boxer. He spent every free moment reading and educating himself in a time when books were so much more scarce than they are today. I recently read his memoir “Education of a Wandering Man” and was very impressed by his discipline and drive to improve himself. And, of course, his books are full of some incredibly manly characters, most notably Mathurin Kerbouchard from “The Walking Drum.”

55 Scott E July 14, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Ronald Reagan definitely had sprezzatura.

56 James NomadRip July 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm

I immediately think of Captain Sullenberger for his calm handling of the emergency landing in the Hudson river and subsequent assertions that he simply did his job like he was supposed to do.

57 enric July 14, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I would say Lord Baden Powell.

58 Robert July 14, 2009 at 2:32 pm

A fictional character “Jean Luc Picard” from Star Trek The Next Generation. A true renaissance man; scholar, gentleman, warrior, explorer, musician, leader. This character embodies sprezzatura to his very core. He was not born this way but developed himself through experience.

59 MK July 14, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin (“The Family Guy”) utterly lack sprezzatura.

60 Robert Sharpe July 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm

In regard to a man that has displayed sprezzatura well I am reminded of Strider/Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. Both in the printed page on the silver screen he is portrayed as a man that is ready to fight for what is right, patient, possessing great knowledge of the land and history and caring for those that he knows as his friends.

61 Cameron A July 14, 2009 at 3:30 pm

I am going to have to say that King Arthur and any of the knights of the round table would fit sprezzatura wonderfully. They were brave and strong defeating evil in the land, lovers in that they believed in the damsel in distress, and a monk through their pious nature. One was holy enough to see the Holy Grail, if you believe the story. They were military tacticians and backed everything they said and believed in with hardened steel.

62 Jonathan Creekmore July 14, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Samwise Gamgee, from the Lord of the Rings.

63 Alex July 14, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Hobey Baker – the Princeton hockey and football great who became one of the best American fighter pilots in World War I. He died tragically at the end of the war in a plane crash. He exemplified the quality of restraint on the athletic field/rink and in times of war.

The Hobey Baker Award is annually given to the best college hockey player – kind of like the Heisman Trophy of college hockey.

64 GizzardKing July 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Father’s Way.

Nothing shall retain him.
Impetuous emotions
It shall be his way
Or no way…

65 Dawson July 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm

For those of you familiar with the ever popular movie 300, I recommend Steven Pressfield’s novel Hot Gates. It is a re-telling of the familiar tale of Thermopalye from the perspective of a Spartan helot…a slave. If anyone is familiar with it the epitome of sprezzatura was demonstrated by the character Dienekes. Calm and collected, mastering his own fear, and leading man by his example. Also circumspection when dealing with hot-heads of equal or great rank (Polynikes). His character is one I often refer back to as a role model.

66 Ryan July 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) – Armed with only a brolly and a bowler (steel rimed) he would take on any threat that would come his way. And who wouldn’t want to be the man that kept Emma Peel interested? His charm and wit kept him unflappable in all situations. While he kept his own counsel, you knew he was on top of things all the time, or at least if he wasn’t you would never know it.

67 Trey July 14, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Colonel Andrew Summers Rowan

This man was the subject of an essay written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899 titled “A Message to Garcia.”

From Wikipedia – The essay celebrates the initiative of a soldier who is assigned and accomplishes a daunting mission. He asks no questions, makes no objections, requests no help, but accomplishes the mission. The essay exhorts the reader to apply this attitude to his own life as an avenue to success.

For as much a T. Roosevelt is praised on AoM, so too should Rowan.

I apologize if the links don’t work right…

Read the essay:
[url=]A Message to Garcia[/url]

Read what Colonel Rowan himself had to say:
[url=]How I Carried The Message to Garcia[/url]

68 Dy Phan July 14, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Keith Obermann.

69 Seth Putnam July 14, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I’d have to go with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona as a prime example of one who lacks sprezzatura. It is of course hard to maintain restraint when you’re a megastar, but this guy snorted away any redeeming characteristics or athleticism he had. Too bad.

Good call on Keith Olbermann, Dy Phan (I assume as an anti-example of spezaturra).

70 David July 14, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Wow! I’m stoked to hear that The Art of Manliness teamed up with Brad Miner to write today’s post.

I requested that the book be one of my presents on my 17th birthday. That was three years ago, and it’s proven to be a great book which has in no small way influenced my approach to life.

71 James July 14, 2009 at 7:38 pm

I second the Atticus Finch nominations and add another literary figure in Jake Barnes from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

72 Paul July 14, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Sir Thomas Moore would be my choice. His ability to provide council for Kings and ambassadors of feuding nations, while still maintaining and staying true to his integrity is something few gentlemen have achieved. Within his publications he holds true to the ideals of sprezzatura, only holding himself answerable the higher power he believes in.

73 Colton July 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Capt. Jack Aubrey and Atticus Finch from the fictional realm. T.E. Lawrence and J.L. Chamberlain from the real world.

74 Ryan July 14, 2009 at 8:12 pm

John Adams. This man stood for justice. He aslo managed to befriend his greatest political adversary, Thomas Jefferson. Despite their philisophical differences, he believed that Jefferson could be a force for good even after Adams’ death. Unfortunately, Jefferson died 5 hours earlier.

75 Elliot Tedcastle July 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (especially after Elizabeth refused him).

76 Joe July 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

In light of the recent movie release, I am going to go with Dumbledore here.

77 Christopher Hutto July 14, 2009 at 8:57 pm

well i hate to be a dork here but an exemplary example of what a true gentleman is I would have to say “Lt. Armstrong” from the anime series “Full Metal Alchemist”. He even looks a lot like the guy on the front page lol.

78 Andy P July 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Stonewall Jackson exemplified this on and off the battlefield.

79 Shane Belin July 14, 2009 at 9:23 pm

SIr Percy, the main character from the Baroness Orczy novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is almost the perfect example of a true gentleman. I’d love to go into more details, but I hate to ruin anything about the book, as it’s wonderful and I recommend it to everyone.

80 Ben July 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

A failed example would be anyone who has run for president in the past few years. If someone wants to impress me about themselves, it shouldn’t be by trying to belittle their opponent. A real man, can let the mud fly around him without joning in in the throwing.

81 Chad July 14, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Someone that I think of that was a good practitioner of sprezzatura was Andrew Carnegie. He was probably the origin of the phrase “rags to riches.” He became one of the wealthiest men in the world and then gave most of his money away to charities and organizations. He was not without controversy though, as most wealthy/famous people are not.

82 Paul July 14, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I have to go with Theodore Roosevelt.

83 Phil July 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm

My vote has got to go hands down to Mr. Frank Zappa.

To make a long story short, back in the mid-1980′s FZ was on an episode of “Crossfire” in which he was being yelled at by a guy named Tom Braden about the labeling of rock & roll lyrics. Zappa was a complete gentleman and through his calmess and direct manner made the other guy look like a raving nut (which he was).

84 Tom July 14, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Rick Rescorla. Professional soldier (Battle of Ia Drang) and Head of security at Morgan Stanley in the years leading up to 911. There’s a couple of thousand or so people who owe him their lives. He was last seen going BACK UP THE STAIRS of WTC 2 to try to bring more people down, probably knowing full well he wouldn’t make it out. His body was never recovered. “Rescorla taught Morgan Stanley employees to save themselves. It’s a lesson that has become, somehow, rare and precious. When the tower collapsed, only 13 Morgan Stanley colleagues–including Rescorla and four of his security officers–were inside. The other 2,687 were safe.”
Read more here:,9171,1810315-3,00.html.

85 Brohammas July 14, 2009 at 11:44 pm

I can answer both sides of that proposition with the same answer; MJ
Michael Jordan was not only excellent, far above any one else in his field at the time, but in his demeanor.
Michael Jackson on the other hand, while being excellent in his field, far above any other, showed no restraint or balance in his personal life.

How is that for a well balanced answer?

86 John July 14, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Robert E. Lee. Hands down.

87 Ted Slampyak July 14, 2009 at 11:51 pm

The man who best exemplifies sprezzatura to me is my dad. Virtuous to a fault, he always showed me how to do what was right, but was always shy and modest about talking about himself. His example was never lost on me, and I’ll always be grateful to him.

88 Joshua Centanni July 14, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Jesus, speaking in parables, artfully hid his true identity from the Pharisees. Also, being the God-man, he is the epitome of all things manly.

89 Philip Anthony July 15, 2009 at 12:15 am

The antithesis of sprezzatura is Mike Tyson.

I doubt there has ever been a man in history who has shown less class, poise or self-restraint; in fact, he gives off an air of complete lack of self-control almost at all times.

He is pure animal, base instinct, and all that a gentleman should strive not to be on a regular basis. From the outlandish insults and threats that fly out of his mouth, to his unruly and often unthinkable behavior, the man is the polar opposite of path towards sprezzatura (based on what I have recently learned about it – from this website :).

90 Patrick July 15, 2009 at 1:23 am

I’m going to throw my hat into the ring and go with Francis Ford Coppola. I just finished reading a short bit about him in the August issue Esquire and was impressed with the clarity and thought that came across everything that he said. There was a thoughtful, yet extremely personable tone to his responses that seemed to embody what sprezzatura should be in the modern context, as well as the fantastic photograph of him, jolly, portly, and well-dressed. This all, coupled with the fact that he’s managed to uncompromisingly convey his craft over so many years and remain steadfast in that pursuit, as well as taking on other ventures (wine!), seems just about perfect to me.

91 Mike Koehler July 15, 2009 at 1:28 am

This is a tough one. I always think of Tom Haden from The Godfather as the wise counsel. Not prone to the outbursts of Sonny, careful in keeping the secrets of the family, helpful to the ascension of Michael.
Fictional, I know, but real life is much, much more filled with feet of clay.

92 Jack Waser July 15, 2009 at 1:40 am

I’ve always considered Benjamin Disraeli to have sprezzatura. He was charming, clever, but never let anything of himself come through except when it was wholly necessary. While his politics were often self-serving, he was assuredly a gentleman (it was said that “When I sat next to Gladstone, he quite convinced me he was the cleverest man in all England. When I sat next to Disraeli, he convinced me I was the cleverest woman in all England.”) and a subtle one.

93 David July 15, 2009 at 3:19 am

I think the concept of the modern media celebrity in general is a defining example of lack of sprezzatura. From the ever popular example of pop idols such as Brittany Spears, to the idea behind American Idol, popular culture is saturated with the idea that everyone has some talent everyone else should hear about.

94 Chris Bell July 15, 2009 at 3:22 am

George Washington. Humble, wise, confident, strong, caring, dutiful, reserved. A true gentleman and one who did a great job of showing Sprezzatura throughout his life.

95 Daniel Warren July 15, 2009 at 4:39 am

I think Dr Who had Sprezzatura. He always seems to know a lot more than what he says.

96 Greg Lontkowski July 15, 2009 at 5:41 am

I believe that The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry is something we just dont see enough of it anymore. So I think this book is very in genius! I would personally Love to have a copy of this Book to read. It sounds like Book that is well worth the efffort of reading.

97 Jim July 15, 2009 at 7:03 am

9 out of 10 men on the train who do not give their seats up for women

98 Jay July 15, 2009 at 7:05 am

I will go with the anti-Sprezzatura, and nominate today’s male on the whole.
While there are examples of Sprezzatura amoung us, many here on this site; I find it interesting and sad that so many have had to reach back into the past to find examples of what true gentlemanliness is. It is an undervalued attribute in a day and age when getting ahead at any cost seems to be the most valued of attributes. We’ve devolved into a society that sees only as far as satisfying its appetites, at their most base, and are paying a heavy price for it. Too many of todays males have sought to “gain the world”, and have lost thier soul in the process.
That is why I’m greatful for websites such as this, which serve to remind, educate, and encourage males to act like real men. A place where words like integrity, honor, chivalry, and fidelity are not considered foriegn, or the vocabulary of the weak.

99 MaCayn July 15, 2009 at 7:21 am

Georgie S. Patton, Jr. hands down wins for complete disregard of sprezzatura.

100 Ben July 15, 2009 at 7:33 am

My pastor, Steve Stroope.

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