Very little is actually known about the historical Gaspara Stampa. Documentation of her life is scarce, and most data are limited to contemporary letters and occasional poems dedicated to her. Even the exact year and location of her birth are uncertain, as is the social status of her family, although some evidence suggests that her father had been a successful Paduan jeweler whose trade permitted a comfortable bourgeois existence. Some information can be drawn from the Rime, although it is not always wise to use the poetry as a biographical source. It appears that sometime after 1530, the three Stampa children were taken to Venice by their widowed mother and were given a good Humanistic education. The daughters, Gaspara and Cassandra, demonstrated exceptional musical aptitude and soon achieved excellent reputations as musicians, while their brother, Baldassare, was becoming greatly admired as a promising young poet before his untimely death in 1544. The siblings, particularly Baldassare, participated actively in the social world of the Venetian ridotti, or salons, meeting some of the most prominent artists, musicians, patrons, and intellectuals of the time. It was a sophisticated environment where the nobility freely mingled with dandies, foreigners, students, and courtesans. It was an ambiance generally inaccessible to the maidens and matrons of the city, who lived a sheltered existence. Gaspara and Cassandra had a ridotto of their own, where they entertained guests with song and poetry. Sometime in 1548, at such a gathering, Stampa met Count Collatino di Collato, a feudal gentleman-warrior known for his patronage of artists and musicians. The romantic involvement of Stampa and the Count became literary history. For the first time, the young woman seriously devoted herself to poetry, producing hundreds of compositions dedicated to the man and the love which would dominate her life for three years. Collatino was an indifferent lover,however, and, after a series of separations and conflicts, the two ended their affair. Stampa found consolation in her art and in another man, the patrician Bartolomeo Zen, who appears in a limited number of sonnets in the Rime. Stampa died in 1554, barely thirty, having published only three of her numerous sonnets in an anthology. Her complete opus was edited posthumously by Cassandra and appeared a few months after the poet’s death. Then, for two hundred years, the writer and her work were forgotten.
The fictional Gaspara Stampa first appeared in 1738, in a biographical sketch accompanying the second edition of the Rime . A direct descendent of Collatino, Count Antonio Rambaldo, wrote this short profile of Stampa, and thus began the first of her legends. Describing Stampa as a sweet young noblewoman of great talent, the Count accused his ancestor of cruelty and betrayal leading to the unnatural and untimely...
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