Renaissance and Reformation Veronica Gambara
Molly M. Martin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0311


Veronica Gambara (b. 1485–d. 1550) maintained a celebrated presence on the Italian literary landscape as a lyric poet throughout the first half of the 16th century. Equally significant to her literary repute was Gambara’s political standing as the dowager Countess of Correggio—a role she assumed upon the death of her husband in 1518 and held until her death in 1550. Though there is a hiatus in the circulation and possibly the production of her poetry between the years 1518 and 1529, likely attributable to the sudden death of her husband in battle, Gambara composed just under seventy vernacular poems throughout her lifetime. In the first stage of her career, beginning at the turn of the century and lasting until 1518, she composed love poems in the Petrarchan sonnet form. Gambara also experimented with popular musical forms such as the frottola barzaletta, and she was the first woman in the Italian tradition to publish secular vernacular lyrics upon the print of her madrigal “Or passata è la speranza” (Now hope has gone) in 1505. When Gambara returned to the public circulation of her verse in 1529, she drew upon her literary talent to engage in political discourses. Most notably from this period, Gambara composed a series of sonnets devoted to the theme of Charles V’s empire, including his return of Medici power to Florence and his military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. In both stages of her poetic career, Gambara made effective use of her family’s cultural network to circulate her verse to prominent figures, most significantly through her correspondence with Pietro Bembo (b. 1470–d. 1547). Bembo praised Gambara’s literary talent in her youth, and he promoted Gambara alongside her contemporary Vittoria Colonna (b. 1492-d. 1547) in her mature years. Gambara herself praised Colonna in verse, and she was the first woman to commission a commented edition of Colonna’s spiritual poems in 1541. For further study of Colonna, see Abigail Brundin’s Oxford Bibliographies article Vittoria Colonna. Gambara also made use of her family’s political capital to buttress her somewhat precarious political position as a dowager connected to her fiefdom by marriage, rather than birth. Gambara staged her return to the public circulation of her poetry to coincide with her brother Uberto’s sojourn as papal governor of Bologna to oversee the coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor. Gambara’s literary activity throughout her governing years elucidates the interrelationship between cultural currency and political power so characteristic of Renaissance Italy, but seldom exhibited by women, thus emerging as one of the first female poet-rulers of the Early Modern period.

General Overviews

Gambara is well represented in catalogues of Early Modern poets in both Italian and English. There are a number of compendious biographical entries accompanied by a selection of sonnets that serve as a useful point of entry for new readers of Gambara, such as Costa-Zalessow 1982, Poss 1987, Russell 1994, and Stortoni and Lillie 1997. A volume of essays produced by a 1985 conference on Gambara provide excellent studies of Gambara’s emergence on the local cultural landscape of Brescia and Correggio; see Bozzetti, et al. 1989. For an extensive examination of Gambara’s rise to fame as a poet on the Italian landscape more broadly, see Cox 2005 and Cox 2008, which also delineate Gambara’s standing as a model for women writers in the second half of the 16th century.

  • Bozzetti, Cesare, Pietro Gibellini, and Ennio Sandal, eds. Veronica Gambara e la poesia del suo tempo nell’Italia settentrionale. Florence: Olschki, 1989.

    Published in Italian, this collection of essays from a 1985 conference on Gambara assembles deeply researched studies on Gambara family history, the political and cultural contexts of Brescia and Correggio, and Gambara’s poetic and epistolary catalogue. This is an indispensable volume to Gambara studies given the range and depth of the assembled material.

  • Costa-Zalessow, Natalia. Scrittrici italiane dal XIII al XX secolo. Ravenna, Italy: Longo, 1982.

    A short entry written in Italian that reviews Gambara’s biography and literary legacy, accompanied by a selection of poems and letters. A nice place to begin for first-time readers of Gambara.

  • Cox, Virginia. “Women Writers and the Canon in Sixteenth Century Italy: The Case of Vittoria Colonna.” In Strong Voices, Weak History: Early Modern Women Writers and Canons in England, France, and Italy. Edited by Pamela Joseph Benson and Victoria Kirkham, 14–31. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

    A prologue to Cox 2008, here Cox examines the process whereby Vittoria Colonna gained entry into the male literary canon in the first half of the 16th century. Her analysis considers Gambara alongside Colonna as she delineates the factors that contributed to these poets’ canonization and their subsequent status as literary models for the next generation of women writers.

  • Cox, Virginia. Women’s Writing in Italy: 1400–1650. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

    A comprehensive study of the emergence and decline of women writers in Italy between the 15th and early 17th centuries. Gambara’s literary fame, alongside that of her contemporary Vittoria Colonna, is contextualized within the rise of women’s participation in the new vernacular literary culture at the turn of the century. The study also meticulously documents Gambara’s role as a celebrated model for women writers in the century after her death.

  • Italian Women Writers Database.

    The Italian Women Writers project provides a database to a corpus of literature written by Italian women authors. On the site one can find a brief biography of Gambara, a number of portraits, and an extensive list of editions of Gambara’s poems and letters.

  • Pizzagalli, Daniella. La signora della poesia: Vita e passioni di Veronica Gambara, artista delrinascimento. Milan: Rizzoli, 2004.

    Pizzagalli’s work, published in Italian, is a popular retelling of Gambara’s life interspersed with readings of her poems.

  • Poss, Richard. “Veronica Gambara: A Renaissance Gentildonna.” In Women of the Renaissance and Reformation. Edited by Katharina M. Wilson, 47–66. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

    A short essay that balances Gambara’s biography with critical analysis of a selection of her poems, including original translations of the poems discussed. A useful introduction to Gambara for English readers.

  • Rabitti, Giovanna. “Lyric Poetry, 1500–1650.” In A History of Women’s Writing in Italy. Edited by Letizia Panizza and Sharon Wood, 37–51. Translated by Abigail Brundin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    The essay introduces the exemplary Italian women poets of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Gambara is presented in comparison to her more famous contemporary Vittoria Colonna, while the analysis of her poetry emphasizes her Petrarchan sensibilities.

  • Russell, Rinaldina. “Veronica Gambara.” In Italian Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Edited by Rinaldina Russell, 145–153. Wesport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

    Divided into three sections—brief biography, major themes of poetry, and survey of criticism—this overview of Gambara’s life and poetry will benefit those looking to initiate research on the poet.

  • Stortoni, Laura Anna, and Mary Prentice Lillie, eds. and trans. Women Poets of the Italian Renaissance: Courtly Ladies and Courtesans. New York: Italica, 1997.

    Original translations of a selection of Gambara’s poems follow a short essay that briefly reviews Gambara’s biography alongside some analysis of a selection of her poems.

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