Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

GASPARA STAMPA
(1523-1554)

Italy
Poet and Virtuosa

Although Gaspara Stampa is known as a famous poet and virtuosa singer from Venice, she was actually born in Padua. Her family was not of the aristocracy, but Gaspara's father, a wealthy jeweler, was able to provide his family with a comfortable living. Gaspara, her sister Cassandra, and her brother Baldassare were fortunate enough to receive the type of education usually reserved for aristocrats that included Latin, poetry, history, art, and music. Before Gaspara was ten years old, her father died, so Gaspara's mother, Cecilia, moved her family to her native Venice where they continued their studies.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, the population of Venice was about 160,000, making it the second largest city in Italy. Cecilia Stampa may have decided to take her children to Venice because of the musical atmosphere that was so much a part of Venetian culture. Virtuosi, or professional singers and accompanists, were in high demand for both private entertainment and public events. Both Gaspara and her sister were particularly talented in singing and instrumental music; Gaspara sang the poems of the late medieval poet Petrarch to her own accompaniment along with a variety of other musical compositions. There are many contemporary testimonies to the angelic qualities of Gaspara's singing as well as to her intellectual gifts.

In Venice, the Stampa home was also a ridotti, or salon, where writers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals gathered and in this glittering world of art and music Gaspara grew up. Such famous writers as Sperone Speroni, Domenico Venier, and Giovanni della Casa frequented the Stampa salon. Gaspara's brother, Baldassare, was also a scholar and a gifted poet whose talents were praised by a number of contemporary authors. Tragically, this admired and talented young man died prematurely in 1544 while he was a student at the University of Padua.

In 1548, Stampa fell in love with Count Collaltino de Collalto, a

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