Gaspara Stampa c. 1523-1554
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Anassilla) Italian poet.
Stampa was a prominent figure in sixteenth-century Italian literary circles and some critics today consider her the best female poet Italy has produced. Her poetry, written in the Petrarchan style and mainly concerned with the theme of the spurned or unrecognized lover, was based on her relationship with Count Collaltino di Collalto. The majority of her poems dealt openly with their love affair. Stampa's unconventional life as a musical performer at men's homes, as well as her high level of education, make her a unique and controversial literary figure.
Stampa was born in Padua, Italy, sometime after 1523. Her father, Bartolomeo, was a jeweler who could afford to have his three children, Gaspara and her two siblings, Cassandra and Baldassare, educated at home. Gaspara and Cassandra were introduced at a young age to poetry, music, Greek, and Latin—an unusual education for middle-class girls at a time when most were taught only basic household skills. Their education continued after Bartolomeo's death in 1531. Gaspara was initially trained to be a musician, or a musical virtuoso, who would sing for the wealthy families of Venetian society. Gaspara's brother, Baldassare, was considered an up-and-coming poet, and the Stampa home had become a salon where literary and artistic figures could gather to share ideas and perform for each other. Gaspara and Cassandra would routinely perform for their brother's artistic friends. In 1544 Baldassare died, but his literary and artistic peers continued to come to the salon to be entertained by the two sisters. Near the end of the 1540s Gaspara had become part of the Venetian artistic circles, routinely visiting other salons to perform her music. In 1548 or 1549 Gaspara met Count Collaltino di Collalto, a nobleman from the Fiuli region. Their relationship, chronicled in her only book, Rime (1554), inspired the start of Gaspara's literary career. She died of a fever in 1554.
Only three sonnets written by Stampa were ever published during her lifetime. Rime, containing three hundred and eleven poems, was edited and published by her sister, Cassandra, shortly after Stampa's death. The poems were not a success and soon went out of print, only to resurface in 1738 in Rime di Gaspara Stampa e di Veronica Franco, reedited by Luisa Bergalli. The sonnets in Rime are written in the Petrarchan convention, a typical style of sixteenth-century poets. The Rime is divided into two sections. The first section, “Rime d'amore,” contains Stampa's love poetry to di Collalto; the second, “Rime Varie,” contains poems dedicated to well-known figures of sixteenth-century Venetian society.
Prior to feminist scholarship of Stampa's poems, critics debated her role in sixteenth-century Italian literary culture. Critics from earlier periods, scandalized by Stampa's frequent performances at Venetian salons, her use of overtly sexual language in her poetry, and her relationship with di Collalto, viewed her as immoral. Some critics tried to present Stampa to the reading public as an “honest,” or non-sexual courtesan, in an effort to popularize her poetry. Contemporary criticism has moved away from Stampa's position within Renaissance society to focus mainly on her verse, especially her ability to capture the tensions in her relationship with di Collalto, as well as her strong assertion of independence—unusual for a female in sixteenth-century Italian society.