In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gaspara Stampa

  • Introduction
  • Translations
  • Collections of Essays
  • Stampa’s Petrarchism
  • Gaspara Stampa and Other Women Poets
  • Music
  • Fictional Biographies, Novels, and Plays

Renaissance and Reformation Gaspara Stampa
Paola Ugolini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0380


Gaspara Stampa (b. c. 1523–d. 1554) was born in Padua to Bartolomeo, a wealthy jewel merchant, and his wife, Cecilia. From an early age Gaspara, her sister, Cassandra, and her brother, Baldassarre, received an extensive education. When Gaspara’s father died, her mother moved the entire family to Venice. By the mid-1540s both Gaspara and Cassandra were renowned for their skill in music, and their household had become a famous musical and literary salon. Stampa’s verse was composed for such performances. In the late 1540s she met the person who would become the principal subject of her poems, Count Collaltino di Collalto, the member of a prestigious family of feudal lords from Treviso. Stampa’s love affair with Collaltino—complicated by the difference in their social status and by Collaltino’s frequent absences for military campaigns or visits to his feudal estates—lasted for several years. A different love interest, Bartolomeo Zen, the subject of a dozen of Stampa’s love poems, seems to have taken Collaltino’s place after that relationship ended. Stampa’s unconventionality in replacing one love interest with another, as well as her openness in describing her relationships and her desires, prompted a scholar in the early 20th century, Abdelkader Salza, to advance the hypothesis that she may have been a courtesan, and the question still remains unsolved. Similarly unclear is the way in which Stampa performed her own verse and that of other poets, such as Petrarch (b. 1304–d. 1374). What is known is that, despite her fame as a virtuosa in Venice, Stampa’s verse was not disseminated in print during her lifetime. When Gaspara Stampa died in 1554, only three of her poems had been published, and the first collected edition of her poems, Rime di Madonna Gaspara Stampa, was published posthumously in 1554 thanks to the efforts of her sister, Cassandra.

General Overviews

Despite being a highly celebrated figure in the Venetian intellectual circles of her time, Stampa has lacked critical attention for many centuries following her untimely death. The introduction by Antonio Rambaldo di Collalto, which depicts Gaspara Stampa as the unhappy victim of a burning passion and unrequited love for the cold, unfeeling Collaltino, is usually considered by scholarship as the beginning of the myth of Gaspara Stampa as the heroine of a tragic love story, a narrative that would have great appeal during the era of romanticism. This romantic myth would receive a shock with Abdelkader Salza’s studies published in the Giornale storico della letteratura italiana (see Salza 1913 and Salza 1917, both cited under Biographical Studies in Italian). Salza dismantled the romantic myth of Stampa as a pure and chaste lover by claiming that she was instead a courtesan by profession. A series of studies followed that were aimed at either supporting or rejecting Salza’s notion. A new wave of interest in Stampa emerged in the 1980s, thanks to Fiora Bassanese’s monograph and articles on Stampa. Since then, scholarly criticism on Stampa has paid less attention to the biographical dispute over her possible status as a courtesan in focusing rather more on her original and refined interpretation of Petrarchism.

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