Gaspara Stampa

The ‘new Sappho’

Gaspara Stampa, unknown artist

The ‘new Sappho’, the beautiful Gaspara Stampa (1523–54), was one of the most original of Renaissance women poets for her elegant verses of burning passion.

Born in Padua, Stampa was one of three children of a jeweller. She was eight when he died, and her mother Cecilia moved the family to Venice. Cecilia gave her children an unusually thorough education in literature, music, history, and painting, and ran a literary ridotto or salon, that attracted musicians, painters and writers. Even as child Gaspara was noted for her lute playing and lovely singing voice.

The love of Gaspara's life was the otherwise unknown Count Collaltino di Collalto, who is believed to have inspired the 311 verses of her Rime. Yet Stampa's model, like many Renaissance poets, was Petrarch, and love in her poetry had a spiritual, humanistic meaning as well as a physical.

Her relationship with Collaltino ended badly, and although she had another love affair with Bartolomeo Zen, most scholars believe she was never a courtesan, like her fellow poet Veronica Franco. She died of a fever in Venice in 1554, and although translations can't do her justice, she is generally acclaimed as the most important Italian female poet of the Renaissance, if not of all time.

Those hot tears and those sighs that you see me
Expelling so forcefully they could bring
The storm-tossed sea to a sudden halt
When it’s at its wildest and most violent:
How can you stand to watch me, with eyes
Not merely calm but contented?
You must have a heart of fierce tigers or serpents
To survive on my harsh sufferings alone!
Ah, at least delay by an hour or two
Your going forth, on which you so insist,
So I can accustom myself to new heartbreak,
Because your sudden disappearance
Could take from me my life, which I cherish
Only insofar as it can serve you.

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