Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gaspara Stampa: "Love Has Made Me Live in Ceaseless Fire"

Gaspara Stampa (died 23 April 1554)


Gaspara Stampa was born in Padua, probably in 1523, and although online sources suggest that the Stampa family did not have much social status, Stampa's recent editors and translators, Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lillie, make it clear that her father, Bartolomeo, was a member of "a noble Milanese family," though one "in decline," and that her mother Cecilia, too, was from "a good family."

After Bartolomeo's death, Cecilia Stampa relocated the family to Venice. There Gaspara was well educated, learning Greek, Latin, and rhetoric, reading excellent literature, and studying music. More importantly, the Stampa home became a place of notable series of conversazioni ("conversations")--literary and musical ridotti, or salons, attended by notable writers, philosophers, scholars, and musicians.

A 1554 drawing of Gaspara Stampa
Gaspara and her sister, Cassandra, were both noted for their musical talents--Gaspara sang and excelled at the lute--but it is as a poet she is now best remembered. Inspired by a love affair, Stampa produced a cycle of sonnets in the Petrarchan model. 

The sonnets in Stampa's sequence reverse the Petrarchan model--Stampa is no silent, elusive object of desire like Petrarch's Laura. Instead, the fictionalized "Gaspara" becomes the lover--we hear her voice and experience her emotions; the male object of her desire is silent.

When Gaspara Stampa died, she was just thirty-one years old. Although her poems circulated among readers in her lifetime, only three of them were published, in poetic anthologies, before her death. Gaspara's collected sonnets, Rime, were published posthumously. 

I recommend Stortoni and Lillie's Gaspara Stampa: Selected Poems, a bilingual edition, with Italian and English on facing pages. More expensive but containing all of Stampa's work is Troy Tower and Jane Tylus's Gaspara Stampa: The Complete Poems.

If you'd like to work with the Italian originals, you will find an electronic text at the Italian Women Writers website.

The first sonnet in the 1554 edition
of Rime.