Under the Sign of Dido: Veronica Gambara (1485-1550), Life, Letters, and Poetry

St. Peter's in Rome from a bridge across the Tiber River, copyright Vittorio F. DiMeglio*

If readers of anthologies of women's, Renaissance, and Italian poetry recognize the name Veronica Gambara at all, they probably remember the name from reading a few of her sonnets or an abridgement of Gambara's one famous poem, Quando miro la terra ornata e bella. Even in the case of "Quando miro," one can still come across late 19th and early 20th century works which attribute it to Vittoria Colonna or bring forth evidence to prove it is by Gambara. Until recently, Gambara has received little serious attention from scholars and critics.1

She was born on November 29, 1485, near Brescia, one of the seven children of Count Gianfrancesco da Gambara and Alda Pio da Carpi. Her father and mother were near cousins from long-linked aristocratic and landowning Northan Italian families who prided themselves upon the humanistic milieu to which they belonged. The two families maintained a high standard of education; the men went into the church, into military and diplomatic posts, and the women had children, brought them up to serve the family and the state, and themselves participated in the social and economic life of their estates and Italy's cities.

Gambara is said to have written poetry as a young girl, and to have received an excellent education. From her writing we can tell that she learned to compose in classical Latin and read Latin poetry. A younger sister, Isotta, is described as also clever and similarly educated; they were close. Gambara mentions Isotta affectionately in a letter written when Gambara was 17. Isotta died while still young and unmarried. Gambara's first biographer, Baldassare Camillo Zamboni, and the eighteenth-century editor of Gambara's poems, Felice Rizzardi, name another sister, Violante, and say she had literary tendencies too, but Violante has disappeared from recent scholarship.2 Later in life we see that Veronica enjoyed luxury, lovely clothes, and jewels. She throve in a sophisticated social milieu. She is also said to have enjoyed riding horses. She was obviously also taught how to manage a family estate. When she grew older, and especially during the early years of her widowhood, she visited other Northern Italian courts, and the record shows she was made much of. People respected both for learning and power visited her court at Correggio in the 1530s.

In 1508 she was bethrothed to a cousin, Giberto X, Count of Correggio. He was a 50 year old widower, she 23. His previous wife had been Violante Pico (descendant of Pico della Mirandola) and he had two daughters. The marriage ceremony occured in 1509 in Amalfi, and Veronica then went to live with Giberto at Correggio. They had two sons. Ippolito was born in 1510 and Girolamo in 1511. They were apparently well-suited. Giberto felt much affection and esteem for Gambara, and she found comfort in his strength and calm presence. She wrote love poems of intense rapture in these early years, and, although the marriage had been arranged by the family as part of their continual policy of intermarriage to consolidate their property and power, when Giberto died (August 26, 1518), her letters hit a note of desperation that ring with a sense of irreparable loss. She opens one: "Cum lachrimosi singulti et cum il magior cordoglio et insoportabile affanno . . . Perdita la magiore si potessi mai haver per me . . . [sic]." She was gravely ill for a time, swathed herself in black, and mourned his death in her poetry. She had a couplet from a powerful speech by in Virgil's Aeneid carved over her door. I quote the full speech:

"For I must tell you, Anna, since the time
Sychaeus, my poor husband, died and my
own brother splashed our household gods with blood,
Aeneas is the only man to move
my feelings, to overturn my shifting heart.
I know too well the signs of the old flame.
But I should call upon the earth to gape
and close above me, or on the almighty
Father to take his thunderbolt, to hurl
me down into the shades, the pallid shadows
and deepest night of Erebus, before
I'd violate you, Shame, or break your laws!
For he who first had joined me to himself
has carried off my love, and may he keep it
and be its guardian within the grave."

She spoke. Her breast became a well of tears.

It has been suggested all this was a form of posing, but she never did remarry. Her earlier poems dramatize with heavy intensity, her trouble coping with the sexual advances of men before marriage, her melancholy, and a lack of self-esteem; upon marriage, she is rejuvenated and if she sometimes seems desperate for reassurance, the relationship helped keep her tendency to acute depression at bay -- at least somewhat and up to the time of her husband's death. By her husband's will she was given enough power and control over money to govern Correggio in her own right and to educate her sons as she saw fit. She was also in charge of the destiny of her stepchildren.3

During the early years of the marriage and after her husband's death, she spent much time educating her sons. Her successful placing of these two sons was a life-long, arduous and anxiety-producing process. Ippolito suceeded as a soldier, and Girolamo eventually rose through politicking and soldiering to become a cardinal. She (generously we are told) married off one of her husband's daughters, Costanza, to Alessandro Gonzaga, Conte da Novellara. She also married her husband's other daughter from his previous marriage, Ginevra, to Count Paolo Fregoso of Genoa. She helped secure alliances which protected Correggio and probably participated centrally in the building that went on in her realm during her governorship. She politicked among the powerful leaders of her day. She was respected at first and listened to as a negotiator later because her brothers, Brunoro, and Uberto, held high places in diplomatic, governing, church and military posts. She also functioned on behalf of her city on her own. She and her brothers, Uberto and Brunoro, moved away from the position of her family which had been strongly pro-French and cultivated ties with the Emperor. We know that in 1521 she was corresponding with Charles V, in 1522 she visited Parma, in 1524 Ferrara and Venice, and then returned to Correggio. On one notable occasion, the coronation in 1530 at Bologna of Charles V, she is said to have helped facilitate a temporary reconciliation between warring factions. In March 1530 and in January 1533 Charles V visited her in Correggio, and on the first occasion signed a treaty (later broken) in which he promised her city would not again be beseiged. In 1538 she organized the successful defense of her city when it was besieged. In her letters she records bringing in grain to feed the people of Correggio during a time of famine just afterwards. There is a letter dated 1541 where she writes Ludovico Rossi who acted on her behalf outside the city and was one of her learned male friends:

Noi stiamo tanto male, che se Dio non ci aiuta, dubito che la maggior parte di questa terra morirà di fame. Mando questa mia apposta per dirvi il bisogno appieno, vedere se fosse possibile il cavar grani di Romagna ed avvisatemi il prezzo, perché mi risolvo per debito e per pietà, s'io dovessi impegnar me stessa, di soccorrere questi miei uomini . .. "

[We are in such a bad state that if God doesn't help us, I suspect the majority of people in this land will die of hunger. I send this epistle to tell you of our complete need, see if it is possible to obtain grain from Romagna and tell me the price, because I am resolved, whether out of duty or pity [also piety], that I shall take upon myself the task of succouring my people . . . ]

Between 1546 and 1550 Charles V paid to have the walls of her city fortified: he reclassed Correggio as a third-class (or ranked) fortress. All this testifies to her active concern, astuteness and successes as a stateswoman and politician.4

She was also a respected poet of whom it's repeatedly said she made of her own court an informal community of learned and artistic associates. Gambara's "Quando miro" was much admired by her contemporaries and reveals her admiration for the Medici. This poem was addressed to Cosimo I, the second Duke of Florence (he ruled from 1530 to 1574). Cosimo was an ideal figure to Gambara because he created a stable government in Florence, helped bring abut a renewed prosperity, and supported a galaxy of artists and philosophers, having, mostly by luck, overcome his origins in an obscure poor branch of the Medici (a circumstance she alludes to in Stanza 24). The poem also celebrates Cosimo's elder kinsman, the brilliant politician and poet, Lorenzo de'Medici ("the noble Laurel," he ruled Florence from 1469 to 1492). Gambara commemorates him equally for his peace-making diplomacy and his exquisitely beautiful lyrical poems. It seems that of the classical poets who meant so much to her, Virgil's poetry meant most. The stanzas from the Aeneid which she had carved over her door signal her adherence to Virgil's values and melancholia as well as a desire to speak somewhere in public (however enigmatically) of her hidden private life. Her letters show a woman attempting to participate in and commemorate the high cultural life of her era at its finest moments. At the same time, the poem was a bid for position for her son: it's been suggested more than once that in response to it, Cosimo gave Gambara's son, Ippolito, the management of Siena.5

In the last few years of her life, Gambara rarely travelled and expressed herself as most contented when at home in her palace and its gardens, where she could cultivate friendships by letters, write, and study her books. She ends one of her later letters:

Sono qui al casino, vivendo al solito, e stimando poco la fortuna, poichè per lungo uso ho fatto il callo alle sue molte percosse. Dal mio Casino.

[Here am I in my villa, all alone, valuing fortune [implied: and wealth and all fortune brings] very little because after long usage I have become inured to her many blows. From my palace.]

It should be noted that Gambara's palace is recorded as having had 300 rooms (some say 360). It was decorated luxuriously, and on the occasion of one of Charles V's visits provided with wall paintings provided by Correggio and a new carriage road, named for the occasion "Viale dell'Imperatore". Of course she may be referring to a small house in the garden of this palace for which the term "casino" had grown up. And it is true that Gambara did yearn for the kind of experience that only "solitaria tranquillità degli otia letterari" [solitary tranquillity in the leisured private reading of books] can give.6

Veronica Gambara died June 13, 1550, and was buried beside her husband in a tomb into which (it is said) was also placed an olive and a laurel branch, a bundle of keys, and a sprig of lavender. According to Riccardo Finzi, her first son, Ippolito's military career broke Ippolito's health and he died two years later (age 42). Five years after Gambara's death, during a local war, the church in which she was buried and her "casino" were destroyed. Although her second son, Girolamo, rose to high position in the church, Girolamo was characterized as "fiero sino alla violenza e severo fino alla durezza" [given to fierce violence and severe behavior to others]. Before Girolamo died in 1577 at the age of 66, the young girl who had in 1550 been married off to Giberto XI, Claudio Rangone, had fled her husband to a convent in Rome; she left a letter in which she described the life at Correggio as insupportably humiliating and violent (menacing) to any Christian woman. Scandal has it that she and Girolamo had become lovers.7

We should not idealize Gambara, for that is to lose the real woman, the full reality of what her court and world had been, and her experience of life. In 1534 Veronica Gambara bethrothed a young cousin aged 7, Chiaro da Correggio, to her son Ippolito then aged 24, because a family will stipulated he could inherit a large property only if he married this cousin. The couple were married when the girl was 14; Chiara is described as having gotten pregnant or having had a succession of babies quickly: one boy and three girls were born, of whom one girl, Fulvia, survived. Chiara died young. While this kind of intrafamilial arrangement was important for the family's survival as a powerful group, Gambara was herself first married at 24. Zamboni tells us that after the birth of her second son, Gambara was very ill, and her husband chose a course of action which precluded her having any more children.8 When in her poetry she celebrates the militaristic mores of her period and congratulates the emperor when he makes war on Jerusalem, she is going well beyond securing peace in Correggio, Brescia and Northern Italy. Maud Jerrold may be harsh, but she is accurate enough when she characterizes numbers of Gambara's poems as "prostituted to political ambition, which narrows and dulls its expression." Many were written to curry favor, to remind someone she exists, to gain something for her sons, or just to flatter. Gambara's first poem to Vittoria Colonna is unusual among her epistolary poems for its utter sincerity: but there Gambara seems to have forgotten her recipient for the moment, and be reacting in emotional revulsion against her own youth and the bitter erotic poems she herself wrote throughout her life. Finzi writes of her exchange of poems with Colonna that "Qui sta il dissidio più profondo fra i sentimenti delle due Poetesse" [Here we see the profound dissention or distance between the feelings and thoughts of teh two poets]. It is true that Gambara seems to have thought of herself as a rival to Colonna: when in 1536 Pietro Aretino complimented Gambara apparently by saying her letters were superior to those of Colonna, Gambara replied:

Che le lettere mie vi piacciano e sieno care, ne sento piacere incomparabile . . . troppo me onorate in dire che le mie prose siano da piú di quelle della Signora Marchesa di Pescara, alla quale cedo in qual si voglia cosa de mondo, nondimeno non posso far che io non mi allegri.

[That you like and value my letters pleases me incomparably . . . you honor me too much when you say that my prose is better than that of the Marchesa di Pescara, to whom I yield all those things that one desires in the world; nevertheless, I cannot deny that I am cheered by your comment.] 9

Gambara left around 150 letters.10 Her principal correspondents are friends, family connections, agents, and a few powerful people. The tone is varied, at moments home-y. A very few warmly affectionate letters to her stepdaughter, Constanza, have been published. She signs these "Vostra madre." It is apparent that she had been and remained a loving mother to this young woman. She writes to a friend who is suffering a painful pregnancy about her own pregnancies (we learn she was pregnant three times), and offers help and advice. Not uncommonly for a Renaissance woman, she values female companionship and affection when it does not get in the way of family aggrandizement. The letters help show ther befriending, promoting and supporting artists and learned men, e.g., Antonio Allegri (called Correggio) and Rinaldo Corso, a learned translator, the first serious literary critic of Vittoria Colonna's poems, and a grammarian; Claudio Merulo, a still respected composer and musician; and a once well-known physician, philosopher and teacher, G. B. Lombardi (detto dei Marchesini). In 1531 Ludovico Ariosto had come to live with her; Del Vasto is there, and Del Vasto signs a deed which provided Ariosto with a small pension, apparently because Gambara encouraged Del Vasto to do this.11 She relaxes in her letters with a few men who seem to have combined the role of confidante with that of a spy and negotiator. Her epistolary friendship with Pietro Bembo was important to her; she is endlessly courteous, kind, and warm to Bembo, eliciting from him an unusually frank letter of gratitude after she wrote to comfort him after the death of his son. He is her admired mentor; she continually sends him sonnets; her tone to him shows her aspirations towards integrity and idealism. She teases people, sends presents, and threatens her male friends and servants genially. On a number of occasions, she reveals personal longings for retirement and her own weariness with her social existence. In a letter written in 1549, to Ludovico Rosso, Gambara writes:

ma per gl'infiniti travagli che mi hanno occupata ed occupano ancora sempre, ed in tutto quello ch'è nemico della natural mia inclinazione, di modo che io concludo non essero il più felice, né il più quieto vivere di quello d'una contadinella, la quale, pascendo le sue pecore, se ne stia all'ombra d'un castagno, lasciando andare il mondo come il più a lui piace, contenta della sua vita solitaria, nutrendosi de povere vivande, a lei più dolci e care che non sarebbe l'ambrosia, ed il nettare il Giove. O felicissima vita! o felicissimo stato! quante volte ho desiderato io d'essere una de queste! Or siamo qui, e bisognai starvi; e, tornando al proposito . . .

[But I am employed in endless tasks and always thus employed; and in all this] I am engrossed with everything that is most contrary to my natural inclinations, so that I have come to the conclusion that there is not a happier or quieter way of life than that of a little country girl, who, taking care of her sheep, remains under the shade of a chestnut tree, letting the world go as it pleases, content with her solitary life, eating poor food which yet is sweeter and more agreeable to her than ambrosia or Jove's nectar would be. O most happy life! O most happy lot! How often have I desired to be one of these! However, here we are and here we must remain, and returning to my first subject . . . (my translation, together with that of Maud Jerrold).]12

The rebellious note is rare and the pragmatic tone with which the passage ends common.

Her grief over the death of her younger sister, Isotta, and her sense of lost real companionship was real enough. She is still referring with sadness to Isotta in the 1520s in a letter to Rossi:

. . . sono addolorata assai, non potendo sentir nominare la Signora Isotta mia sorella, senza rinverdire le piaghe, e rinnovare quel che m'ancide. Ho bisogno di conforto, di riposo, di silenzio, e sono certa, che lo sapete, però in ogni caso son vostra, e desiderosa de servirvi . . .

[. . . I am sad enough, not being able to hear my sister Isotta's name spoken aloud without reviving wounds and renewing that which kills me. I need comfort, rest, and silence, and I am sure that you know it . . . ].13

Nonetheless, the reality is that, like many Renaissance women, Gambara is guarded in most of the writings by her that have survived and been published. It has been claimed she was real friends with Isabella d'Este and Vittoria Colonna, but the extant letters do not bear out much more than what is perhaps a desire to be friends but is clearly also political networking. In many letters she alludes to what is understood or what an agent has spoken for her. Characteristically she will end a letter by looking forward to when she and her correspondent can speak face-to-face or will tell the correspondent to listen to what her messenger-carrier has to say. She is a diplomat, and she pressures her correspondents on behalf of her sons. She attempts to place protégés. She is ruthless in her pursuit of position for her sons -- though she has guilty twinges:

Il povero figliolo [Ippolito] ha spesa la vita; se si facesse una tregua, come si va dicendo vederete dove egli si ritroverebbe. Fui sempre nemica della guerra; ed ora conveince ch'io la desirderi; or vedete dove io sono ridotta.

[My poor son exhausts his life; if there were a truce, one could say here is a space for him to recover. And yet I was always an enemy of war; but now I find I desire it; you see to what I am reduced.] 14

It is said that she was at Brescia in 1512 when it was sacked, and that she was lucky to escape physically unscathed. If so, she never recorded her memories in her letters or any journals that have come to light -- unless it be that we can read the intense emotion she feels upon returning to Correggio and her love of the Brescian landscape as the product of anguished memories.15

Her 80 or so poems are less varied in tone. Even those that are partly exercises in diplomacy or flattery show an insistent tone of heartache and yearning after beauty in human relationships and the physical world. The better known poems celebrate landscape, mourn the death of her husband and individual poets and friends; they praise powerful political men and commemorate friendships with other poets. A preponderance of the poems are about love, and many of these are autobiographical, personally revealing, and effective. When young she records how a man treats her badly after he and she have become lovers; later she insists she is desperate and vulnerable when in love -- even when the man is her husband. Whether penitent or turning her rage against herself, she presents herself as often intensely sad -- though the argument has been made that she was also strongly influenced to write in the tones she did by her reading of the erotic poetry of her day, in particular Bembo's Rime and Asolani. Citing the influence of Sannazaro's Arcadia and Rime, Chimenti sums up the amalgam of tonal range available for manipulation by Gambara as Petrarchanism inflected by a Tasso-like melancholy, love of eroticism, and exaltation of an idealized natural world, justified by the classical tradition of pastoral from Theocritus and Longus to Virgil and Ovid.16

Gambara's personality, life, and poetry are badly in need of reassessment. The 21st century scholar has a responsiblity to discuss the ways in which Gambara complied with and reinforced the injustices of her and our world and also how she managed to keep her court and community at peace and how during her life her part of the world was known as learned, pleasant, productive, in short a kind of Arcadia. From her poetry, in her letters and from her life emerges a woman with a complicated understanding of what it is to live in an apparently civilized court society supported and threatened by the vagaries of hierarchical networks and brutal armies. The intensity, quality and number of Gambara's love poems have yet to be taken fully into account. Like other women poets of the Renaissance, she explores what it is to be a woman in love where such a state makes her emotionally dependent, and at continual risk of scorn, loss of self-respect and all outward pride.17 There is also an authentic individual tone, a voice, and a piling up of materials that suggest for Gambara writing and art not marginal activities in her life, but a vocation.18 Though there does not seem to have been any other Aeneas after the death of Gambara's husband, I feel her choice of type, Dido, gives us important insight into her character as a woman and poet.19


1 The situation is beginning to change. In 1985 a conference was held in Brescia in her honor where a number of papers were given; in 1995 Alan Bullock produced the first scholarly edition of Gambara's poems since 1759; and in 1990 there appeared an informative biography whose celebratory tone is intended to appeal to a conventional or wide audience. See Cesare Bozzetti, Pietro Gibellini, and Ennio Sandal, edd., Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Tempo Nell'Italia Settentrionale, Atti de Convegno, Brescia-Corregio, 17-19 ottobre 1985 (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1985); Alan Bullock, ed. Veronica Gambara, Le Rime (Firenze: Olschki, 1995), Antonia Chimenti, Veronica Gambara: gentildonna de Rinascimento: un intreccio di poesia et storia. (Reggio Emilia, Italy: Magis, 1990).

2 See Felice Rizzardi, ed., introd. Rime e lettere di Veronica Gambara, prefaced by a "Vita di Veronica Gambara" by Baldassare Camillo Zamboni (Brescia, 1759), the family tree facing pp. xxix, and Riccardo Finzi, Umanita' di Veronica Gambara (1485-1550) (Reggio Emilia, 1969), p. 39n24. Finzi repeats Zamboni and Rizzardi's list and characterization of Veronica's brothers and sisters: Uberto, Cardinale; Ippolito, left blank (so her son was perhaps named after this brother); Brunoro, Uomo d'armi, letterato e poeta; Camillo, Letterato, grecista; Violante, Letterata; and Isotta, Letterata (morta in età giovanile). Violante has disappeared altogether in the family tree printed at the close of Ennio Sandal's "Casa Gambaresca, I Libri, La Tipografia," Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Temp Nell'Italia Settentrionale, p. 77 (Violante does not appear, nor is there any denial that she existed). One should should never take the more extravagant of the claims made for the education of the daughters of high status families in early modern Europe too seriously or literally; on the constant overestimation of women's education in the Renaissance, see Retha Warnke, Women of the English Renaissance and Reformation. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983), pp. 3-12.

3 The translation from Virgil is quoted from Allen Mandelbaum's translation of the Aeneid (New York: Bantam, 1971), Book V, pp. 80-81, lines 22-37. Outside of Gambara's letters Zamboni's life is the first, main, and often the ultimate or only source for what intimate detail we have of Gambara's life. He tells us of the various sources upon which he drew for his life; an important one a Latin translation (by Girolamo Catena) of a life by Rinaldo Corso (the original is apparently lost; this Latin translation was published in 1577); see Zamboni, p. xxvi. Zamboni tells us of how after her husband's death, Gambara had a couplet from the above passage carved on her door. The Latin lines run: "Ille meos, primus qui me sibi iunxit, amores/abstulit: ille habet secum serveteque sepulcro." See Rizzardi, p. xliii. For an illustration to this edition which includes the couplet click here. For the letters which show Giberto's affection and esteem for his wife and Gambara's intense grief at his death, see Luigi Amaduzzi, Undici Lettere inedite di Veronica Gambara e un'ode Latin tradotta in Volgare (Guastalla: Tipografia R. Pecorini, 1889), p 26; Luigi Pungileoni, Memorie intorno alla vita e agli studi di Veronica Gambara (Brescia: Nicoli-Cristiani, 1827), pp. 21-23. On the arranged marriage, see Sandal, p. 60, Chimenti, pp. 22-28.

4 Finzi, p. 26. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are mine. On the threat of invasion by Galeotto Pico della Mirandola and Gambara's defence of her city in 1538, and the plague and famine that followed, see in English, Maud Jerrold in "A Sister Poet, Veronica Gambara," a chapter in Vittoria Colonna, With Some Account of Her Friends and Her Times. (New York: Dent, 1906), p. 166. This is not the only time Gambara acted decisively on behalf of the citizens of her territory; in 1526 Fabrizio Maramaldo attempted to raid the city with 800 infantryman, probably because his men were without pay or victuals ("scarsità di paghe o di vettovaglie"). A prompt defense prevented him and his men from crossing the outer walls of the city; see Finzi, p. 42n44. On the building of Correggio, its economic basis and Gambara's role in securing alliances, see Alberto Ghidini, "La contea di Correggio ai Tempi di Veronica Gambara," Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Temp Nell'Italia Settentrionale, pp. 83-90. On Veronica Gambara's maneuvring politics and brothers' analogous successes, see Chimenti, pp. 37-42, e.g., Chimenti documents Gambara's success in getting Charles V to re-invest Veronica and her sons rights as inheritors of Brescia; in 1528 Clement VII made Veronica's brother, Uberto, Bishop of Tortona and a Viceregent (?) in Bologna as a reward for negotiating successfully on the papacy's behalf beween Henry VIII and Francois I; by 1529 Veronica's brother, Brunoro, was a gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles V; in that year Charles V invested Brunoro with the power to help negotiate a peace betwen himself and Venice.

5 The republic of Florence was repressed in 1530; at the death of Alessandro Medici, the 17 year old Cosimo, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere and Maria Salviati was "given" Florence. Cosimo was officially elected or legitimized on 21 June 1537 and given the title of Duke 20 September 1537. it was in 1530 that Veronica's son, Ippolito, had "distinguished" himself on the field on behalf of the Medici and against the Florentines. See Courten, pp. 35, 131-42; Chimenti, pp. 53-55. Gambara did write a poem mourning what had happened to the Florentines: La bella Flora, che da voi sol spera (Hope and fear consumes beautiful Florence).

6 See Elisabetta Selmi's important "Per l'epistolario di Veronica Gambara," Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Tempo Nell'Italia Settentrionale, pp. 174-80; Ghidini, pp. 90-98. Veronica Gambara's letters have been printed a number of times; at this point most of those which have survived may be found most conveniently (in one place) in Pia Mestica Chiappetti, Rime e Lettere di Veronica Gambara, ovamente pubblicate per cura di Pia Mestica Chiappetti (Firenze: Barbèra, 1879); see p. 178 (LI). Chiappetti's "edition" is basically a reprint of Rizzardi except that Chiappetti replaced Zamboni's biography with one she wrote; she attempts to correct and add a few texts to Gambara's corpus not printed by Rizzardi. There was more than one house; Finzi provides a list of 7 residences, p. 46 n65. On the luxury, carriage road and paintings added at the time of Charles V's first visit, and the blockage of this road so that it might not be used for raids later on, see Finzi, pp. 17, 43n46, 44n49; Chimenti, pp. 45-46, retells the story of the visit. Gambara's "casino" may be glimpsed in the vignette centered on the title page of Felice Rizzardi's mid-18th century edition of her poetry.

7 See Finzi, pp. 11-12, 48n75; Fernando Manzotti, Cataloghi Della Lettere di Veronica Gambara, preceduti da un saggio critico (con lettere inedite). (Verona: Quarerni di 'Nova Historia,' 1950), p. 18; Ghidini, pp. 96-98.

8 For a justification for Gambara's behavior to her ward, see Ghidini, especially pp. 82-83. The information about Veronica and Giberto X's private sex life, see Rizzardi, Zamboni, "Vita," xlii-xlvi. Zamboni's words are ambiguous; he is showing us how much Giberto valued Gambara. The text runs: that after a grave sickness whose cure necessitated "che s'usasse un certo rimedio onde sarebbe divenuta sterile, per ciò che ne sentivano i medici e dissero al marito di lei; Giberto che teneramente l'amava, ed era ottimo conoscitore e guidice dei meriti della moglie, diede volentieri il suo assenso perchè all'uso si venisse del proposto rimedio, sacrificano così desiderio della salute di Veronica la speranza di una prole più numerosa." See also Finzi, pp. 28, 40. n29; Chimenti, p. 62n. Finzi records that Chiara had a daughter, Fulvia, by Ippolito in 1543; Chimenti reprints a short life of Ippolito which includes details about Chiara's live births. Finzi puts it that following an illness Gambara's doctors used a remedy which rendered her sterile. However, there is a letter (see below in the text) by Gambara to a friend in which Gambara reveals she was pregnant three times.

9 Jerrold, p. 168, and Secret Sacred Woods: To Powerful Political Men; see also Under the Sign of Dido, and Gambara's first poem to Colonna: Mentre da vaghi, e giovenil pensieri; Finzi, p. 15; Rizzardi, pp. 286-87. Gambara's comment to Aretino showing her rivalry with Colonna, and a rare pride over her letters is also quoted by Selmi, p. 152. Clementina Courten's biography is still valuable for her discussion of Gambara's letters; see Courten's Un Gentildonna del cinquecento. (Milano: Casa Editrice, 1934-5) 62-120. Manzotti is also still a useful bibliographic tool for studying Gambara's letters as Manzotti includes a concise history of the publications of the letters, and an annotated catalogue of some (not all) of the published letters.

10 On the editions of Gambara's correspondence and the correspondence itself, see Selmi, pp. 143-81. It is worth noting that just about all the letters published as by Gambara have been printed in polished and corrected forms. Finzi is alone in attempting to present to the reader the original texts the way Gambara wrote them: they are rough, filled with flowing unpunctuated sentences, many spelling errors and read somewhat differently (they feel much less calculated) than in the form they usually appear. For a typical text by Gambara which has been untouched, see Finzi, p. 41, n39., where Finzi reprints Gambara's letter describing her intense headaches and illness shortly after her husband's death: "io come potete intender . . . non sono troppo in cervello per certa febre che mi ha molto travaliata con un gran dolor di testa che in tutto non mi alasiata pur credo non sarà altro andarò seguitando per qualchi gioni di purgarmi per veder se piacerà a idio benedetto di liberarmi da questa maleditione di milza . . . " She probably had malaria. Unfortunately, the corpus of her letters probably represents only a small portoin of what she wrote. Thus, from her comments in her letters and the regular payment of the dowry she gave Costanza ("7.000 scudo di oro"), we can see they visited one another and and were a supportive mother and daughter. But we have few letters, and we have no poems to commemorate this relationship -- probably every bit as important as the one she had with her sons. See Finzi, pp. 14 and 42n40.

11 See Selmi, pp. 160-61: There appear to be several letters from Gambara to her stepdaughter which have remained unpublished; only 1 appears in Chiappetti (pp. 360-61), 1 in Amaduzzi (pp. 30-31), 1 in Manzotti (p. 27), and none in Rizzardi. See also Finzi, pp. 24-25, 29, 47n71: Del Vasto came to stay at Correggio on June 29, 1531 and stayed until November 25; during this time Ariosto was there and on October 18, 1531, a deed was signed. See also Chimenti, p. 68n; Ghidini, pp. 84-85 ("il marchese del Vesto si portò a Correggio in veste di amico con le sue truppe spagnole") and p. 93. Finzi records evidence that in 1549 Gambara still had energy to support and aid someone in the composition and publication of a grammar of Tuscan Italian. There is little documentary evidence about Gambara's patronage of Antonio Allegri; Chimenti (p. 45) cites a letter from Veronica to Isabella d'Este where Veronica describes a painting by Correggio where he painted a Magdalen in the desert and says she admires the deep sorrow and penitence of the figure; this letter is reprinted (or perhaps described) in J. Cartwright, Isabella d'Este marquise de Mantoue, translated into French by E. Schlumberger (Paris, 1912), p. 368.

12 Chiappetti 181-83 (LIV); Jerrold 163. There is also the less frequently quoted: "Tanta differenza è data dalla vita mie presente a quella passata di Bologna, quanto è da un luogo all'altro. Veramente la patria è dolcissima, et tanto a gusto mio, ch'io benedico spesso il suo primo fondatore, e successivamente tutti quelli, che l'abitano, ed abiteranno infino alla consumazione dei secoli; e se la mia penna fosse così bastante a lodarla, com'è pronta la voglia, non furono, nè sarebbero mai lodi pari a quelle, ch'io le darei." See Courten 109. For a perceptive analysis of Gambara's correspondence with Bembo, her sending him poems, and the close relationship of her poems in mood and specific lines see Giorgio Dilemmi, "Ne Videatur Strepere Anser Iner Olores", Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Tempo, pp. 23-35. Theirs was a curious relationship, at once distant, a matter of courtesies and (for Gambara) much-needed praise on his part, and intense emotionalism and love and respect for Bembo as a poet on hers.

13 Chiappetti 153 (XXXIX).

14 The letter is to Agostino Ercolani, written towards the end of 1537. I quote it as it appears in Chimenti, p. 61. Most discussions of Gambara's correspondence idealize her letters, or at least emphasize the aspects of her letters which show her as a kind friend or patroness, as someone longing for companionship, validation, and occasionally expressing private unselfish and unworldly feelings, e.g., Courten, pp. 146-155. It is thus refreshing to read Chimenti's disillusioned and candid account of Gambara's unashamed politicking for Girolamo as a candidate for the cardinalate immediately after the apparent murder of Cardinal Ippolito Medici when he went as ambassador to the papacy on behalf of Florence. Although she justifies Gambara's behavior, indeed seems to deny there is any need to criticize it (as simply expected or commonplace human behavior), Chimenti emphasizes the hard-nosed politicking and (insincere) performative aspects of Gambara's correspondence, see pp. 54-65.

15 In Mario Marcazzan's essay on Gambara's poetry, "Veronica Gambara e i Sonetti degli 'Ochhi lucenti'", Romanticismo Critico e Coscienza Storica (Firenze: Casa Editrice Marzocco, 1948), pp. 100-17, there is an information-packed footnote based on a brief life of Gambara's father and a contemporary diary. Chimenti also retells the story graphically, pp. 29-30. It seems that in 1509 Gambara's father defected from Venetians he was hired to defend; two years later (1511) in another battle he fled judgement from the Venetians in a litter, and died upon returning to Brescia (November 1511). He had visited Veronica in Brescia in June 1510. Veronica came to the city upon her father's death (presumably for the funeral) and witnessed the sack of Brescia by the French as the French reconquered it from Venice. This is ironic as the Gambara family had been pro-French and until this point rewarded by the French.

What happened was the "Holy League," headed by Julius II, and made up of a confederacy of Swiss, Venetian, Spanish and English armies provoked this violent reaction from the French army when they sacked Ravenna in early February 1512. The Venetians attempted with an armed Guelf (pro-papacy) group in Brescia to conquer its fortress, but did not succeed and the French armies were let loose to sack the place ferociously (under the leadership of Gaston de Foix, returned from Ravenna). There is evidence that Gambara's husband was partly responsible for her having been able to find refuge and escape unscathed. It is also said here (and elsewhere) that Gambara's mother was pro-French and revelled in watching the carnage out of her desire to be revenged on the Venetians. To echo some words of Samuel Johnson about a poet ill and starving to death in a feezing cold attic in the 18th century, we may hope Gambara's mother did not behave this way as there is no documentary evidence to prove Gambara's mother rejoiced at such carnage and cruelty, but it seems contemporary sources think this would be in character for her.

Marcazzan remarks that it is odd that Gambara wrote not a line on these traumatic events; the implication is what she wrote was destroyed or she deliberately censored herself; see p. 105ns10-11. A letter written by Giberto about this incident which shows him attempting to protect his wife and sons (really to rescue them from the siege) is printed by Pungileoni, p. 21. Carlo Dionisotti in "Elia Capriolo e Veronica Gambara," Veronica Gambara e la Poesia del Suo Tempo, p. 17, suggests we find the memories in powerful emotions of Gambara's later landscape poetry. For an even-handed perspective on these events, one which suggests that Veronica Gambara later showed remarkable acumen in readjusting alliances on behalf of the Gambara and Correggio, see Ghidini, pp. 83-84. Vittoria Colonna did write a poem on these events -- from her perspective as an abandoned wife whose husband was captured.

16 Dilemmi, pp. 28-32; Chimenti, pp. 69-73. Chimenti characterizes the currents in the collections of poetry in the period as "la visione luminosa del paesaggio, la concezione spirituale dell'amore, la confessione degli errori di gioventù improntata allo schema agostiniano di 'conversione', il senso della caducità delle cose terrene."

17 See Ann Rosalind Jones, The Currency of Eros: Women's Love Lyric in Europe, 1540-1620 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990).

18 See Selmi, pp. 171-76 and Chimenti, pp. 72-73. Chimenti is again eloquent: we feel we are in the presence of "dell'espressione più autentica del suo intimo sentire e delle sue più nobili aspirazioni."

19 Juliana Schiersari, The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992) has done the kind of exploration I refer to for other women which needs to be done for Gambara.

* The image is a photograph digitally altered to look like a painting. The work was done by Vittorio DiMeglio who has generously allowed me to display his art on my site.
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