Gaspara Stampa produced only one lyric collection during her short life: the Rime. Modeled after Petrarch’s prototypical canzoniere, Stampa’s work offers modern readers exceptional insight into the artistic aspirations and literary ideals of the Italian Renaissance, a period which cherished creative imitation. Like many of her contemporaries, Stampa emulated the language, form, and thought of the traditional master. In a period that did not favor radical innovation, the Rime kept to the forms favored by Petrarch—the sonnet, madrigal, and sestina—as well as to his basic motifs, rhetorical devices, and conventional images.
In addition, Stampa employed the standardized lyric vocabulary formulated by Petrarch and adopted by his followers. Stampa’s borrowings from Petrarch are numerous and acknowledged. The very structure of her opus follows an established format for collections of love poetry in the sixteenth century. Like Petrarch, she presents a love story as it unfolds in a series of inner conflicts in an atmosphere of painful self-awareness; like him, she orders the loose threads of her plot line in a chronological fashion. Nevertheless, both master and disciple transcend the barriers of biographical or realistic experience and enter the realm of universality. Nor was Stampa a mere copier. Her reworking of the Petrarchan model enriches her verse by constantly functioning as a sounding board against which her own words...
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The Petrarchan origin of Gaspara Stampa’s poetry is undeniable and indeed is clearly acknowledged by the poet herself in the Rime’s opening sonnet, which both paraphrases and pays homage to Petrarch’s prefatory poem to his Canzoniere (1470). Similar paraphrases open many Renaissance collections of love poetry, immediately acknowledging their artistic origins in the medieval master. In Stampa’s case, this declared derivation serves two purposes. On the one hand, the poet directly associates her compositions with those of their literary source; on the other, she also contrasts the two works by altering the premises of the sonnets. Thus, Stampa’s prefatory sonnet informs the reader that she is about to construct an exemplary love story in the pattern established for canzonieri, but it also declares that Petrarch’s moral environment is not operative in this Renaissance work. Petrarch had from the outset of his collection emphasized the victory of the soul over earthly vanitas; Stampa, the disciple, retains none of her master’s religious conflicts.
The first sonnet of the Canzoniere had emphasized spiritual repentance; the first sonnet of the Rime proposes the unending exaltation of human love, not its moral rejection. From the beginning, Stampa distinguishes her poetic universe from Petrarch’s and initiates her subversive interpretation of the model. Here, and throughout her collection, Stampa divests her borrowings of their original moral and religious implications. She uses Petrarchan themes, images, metaphors, poetic devices, forms, vocabulary, and even whole lines but rejects the Christian consciousness that shapes the psychological ambiance of the medieval source. One example is the poem “La vita fugge,” which replicates the first line of a famous Petrarchan sonnet. Both poems are concerned with the passage of time and the ensuing emotions of loss and dread, but Stampa...
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It is Stampa’s language that most clearly separates her from the other imitators of Petrarch and lyric poets of the sixteenth century. Common, everyday speech often intrudes into the courtly diction of emulation. The poet tends toward spoken language, creating an atmosphere of directness and sincerity often lacking in the work of her more polished contemporaries. To achieve such spontaneity, Stampa employs direct and indirect discourse, dialogue, apostrophe, invocation, and direct address. Her verse is also unique for its musicality. Given her instrumental and vocal training, it is not surprising that her poems are often melodious, rhythmic, and aurally suggestive, linking her to the later contributions of the Arcadian school and the melodrama of Pietro Metastasio. Stampa’s lyric idiom has a distinct identity, a private language which unites conventional style, colloquialisms, musical cadence, and directness.
Also unique to Stampa is her sensual honesty. Her poetry is not explicitly erotic, but it is sensuous, its sexuality being contained by the generalities of Petrarchan diction. The carpe diem theme, the call to the beloved to enjoy pleasure and beauty before they disappear in time, links some of her poetry to that of Christopher Marlowe, Robert Herrick, and Andrew Marvell. The pain and negativity of love found in Stampa is also given rhetorical dress in her unusual use of the hyperbole. Just as the Petrarchan antithesis had served Stampa well in describing the dichotomy of loving, so the conceit serves to express love’s pain and imperiousness, as well as the beloved’s cruelty. Contradictory feelings, the tensions and extremes of emotion, frustration, passion, anger, and hopelessness are dramatized through language. It is this emotive tension that separates Gaspara Stampa from other lyric poets in her century, justifying her famous line: “Love has made me such that I live in fire.”
Bassanese, Fiora A. Gaspara Stampa. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Comprehensive and authoritative, this rare full-length critical study of Stampa in English synthesizes the full range of continental scholarship, with sound original conclusions. Annotated bibliography of Italian sources is also useful.
Braden, Gordon. “Gaspara Stampa and the Gender of Petrarchism.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 38, no. 2 (Summer, 1996), 115-139. Article reviews the range of Petrarchan poetic conventions and suggests an unorthodox interpretation of Stampa’s position within that tradition.
Cesareo, G. A. Gaspara Stampa donna e poetessa. Napoli: Perella, 1920. An influential biographical and...
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