Stampa, Gaspara (1523–1554)

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Stampa, Gaspara (1523–1554)

Italian poet. Born in 1523 in Padua, Italy; died on April 23, 1554, in Venice, possibly a suicide; daughter of Bartolomeo Stampa (a gold merchant) and Cecilia Stampa; sister of Cassandra Stampa (a singer); studied classics, history, philosophy, music, Latin, and Greek; never married; no children.

Widely regarded as the greatest Italian woman poet, Gaspara Stampa was born in 1523 at the height of the Italian Renaissance, the daughter of Cecilia Stampa and Bartolomeo Stampa, a gold merchant. After Bartolomeo died in 1530, Cecilia moved her three children to Venice to live near her family. (Gaspara had a brother Baldassare and a sister Cassandra Stampa .) Unusual for middle-class girls, Gaspara and Cassandra received the ideal education fashionable at the time for the daughters of nobles, including training in classical languages, literature, music, art, history, and rhetoric. It is thought

that Cecilia, lacking the funds to give her two daughters large dowries, hoped to educate them for careers as virtuose, professional singers and accompanists who performed under the patronage of the Venetian elite.

The three children were exceptionally talented at music, and became renowned in Venice; their home became a center of Venetian music and literary life. Stampa sang, played music, and recited poetry for the distinguished scholars and artists who gathered at the family's home and was considered the most talented of her siblings.

She underwent a spiritual crisis in 1544 on the death of her beloved brother and withdrew from social activities. However, by 1548 she was at the height of her fame, and in that year she fell in love with Collaltino di Collalto, count of Treviso. Despite the fact that in her poems she described herself as young and inexperienced at the time, it is likely that she had, by age 26, enjoyed love affairs, although historians have debated for centuries whether she was in fact a courtesan.

Stampa's affair with Collalto, which was immortalized in the majority of her surviving poems, lasted off and on for three years. Collalto was apparently not as enamored as Stampa, and was in addition often away from Venice serving in the French army. The years of this affair mark the emergence of Stampa as a poet of considerable originality and eloquence, praising her lover but also expressing her physical passion and the emotional turmoil his inconstancy caused her. Many of her sonnets were inspired by Petrarch's poems for his beloved Laura (Laure de Noves ), yet they are clearly expressive of Stampa's own feelings and personal experience. Her poetry circulated among the salons of Venice and brought her much admiration.

In 1550, Stampa lived for a time with Collalto, but by the end of the year the relationship had ended. After suffering from a deep depression, Stampa eventually fell in love again, with the wealthy Venetian patrician Bartolomeo Zen. Zen was a far more devoted lover than the halfhearted Collalto, and they remained together for two years. In 1553, Stampa, suffering from ill health, moved to Florence to regain her strength. In that year, her admirers arranged for the publication of three of her sonnets in an anthology of Venetian poetry.

She returned to Venice in April 1554, dying from an undiagnosed illness two weeks later. That autumn her sister Cassandra edited the first edition of Stampa's sonnets, published as Rime d'amore (Love Sonnets). The book was not widely distributed, and for almost two centuries Stampa's works were barely known. A descendent of Collaltino di Collalto had the poems republished in 1738 to honor his ancestor's memory, which again brought celebrity to Stampa's name. Some poems included in the collection were translated into English in 1881. Romantic writers of the 19th century republished the poems often. At the same time, lacking adequate documentation about her life, they also built up legends about Gaspara Stampa which persisted for many decades, including the legend that she had committed suicide when Collalto left her. The few facts available on her life, sensationalized, became the subject of novels and plays, portraying her as simply a tragic victim of love or a worldly courtesan rather than as an accomplished artist. Only recently has Gaspara Stampa's work been critically reexamined and republished, restoring her to her place among the poets of the Italian Renaissance.


Bassanese, Fiora. Gaspara Stampa. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1982.

Warnke, Frank. Three Women Poets: Renaissance and Baroque. London: Associated University Presses, 1987.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California