On Alan Bullock's attribution to Vittoria Colonna of three poems which have been attributed to Veronica Gambara

The following notes, argument, and accompanying translations are copyright © Ellen Moody 2001, 2002, 2003. See also a summary of Toscana on Bullock's 1982 edition of Colonna's Rime and brief commentary on his 1995 edition of Gambara's Rime in a key to my translations of Gambara's poetry.

The purpose of these notes is to set forth evidence which Alan Bullock recently presented for attributing 3 poems to Vittoria Colonna which have been attributed to Veronica Gambara. The evidence is in his "Un sonetto inedito di Vittoria Colonna", Studi e problemi critica testuale, 2 (1971), pp. 229-235 and his "Veronica o Vittoria? Problemi di attribuzione per alcuni sonetti del Cinquecento," Studi e problemi di Critica Testuale, 6 (1973), 115-31). It is also to state where the attributions to Gambara came from.

I first link a text of the poem in question with an accompanying translation. I then present in concise form the evidence for the long-standing attribution to Gambara and the background to Bullock's reassignment of these poems to Colonna. I then summarize and present evidence against Bullock's argument, and provide citations of the letters and documents in question.


Vinca gli sdegni e l'odio vostro antico

The traditional case for attribution to Veronica Gambara:

"Vinca gli sdegni e l'odio vostro antico" (which I English as "Conquer your scorn and your long-held hatred ..."): first printed as by Gambara in the 1553 edition of Gambara's Rime (No 2, p. 2) edited by Girolamo Ruscelli who knew her well and argued against the attribution of "Quando miro" to Vittoria Colonna; then reprinted in the 1759 edition of Gambara's poems and letters edited by Felice Rizzardi (No. 4, p. 4); and for a third time judged as by Gambara in the 1879 edition of her poems and letters reprinted by Pia Mestica Chiappetti (No. 4, p. 4). Rizzardi thought this is the sonnet referred to in a letter dated September 16, 1538, by Pietro Bembo to Veronica Gambara, where he thanks her for a copy (reprinted Chiappetti, pp. 324-327).

The essay by Bullock which argues at length that the above poem is by Vittoria Colonna is "Un sonetto ineditio di Vittoria Colonna", Studi e problemi critica testuale 2 (1971), pp. 229-235. Bullock cites the presence of "Vinca gli sdegni" with another sonnet known to be by Colonna (from 15 other manuscripts), Vergina pura, che dai raggi ardenti" ("Lovely virgin, so innocent, happy"). Thus the second, "Vinca gli sdegni e l'odio vostro antico" must be by Colonna too. Both are clearly marked as by Vittoria Colonna. This is his whole proof; the rest of the article tries to show similarities in diction between other of Colonna's sonnets and this one; there are equal similarities with Gambara's sonnets.

Bullock simply dismisses another manuscript which contains 4 other poems by Veronica Gambara along with "Vinca gli sdegni", with the argument the placement is erroneous and an Italian article misread "Vinca gli sdegni" as by Veronica when the preposition meant to her. He speculates the sonnet was sent to Gambara by Colonna. It is this set of poems which forms the center of his dispute for this poem and "Vincere i cor più saggi e i re più alteri" (below).

Bullock also dismisses the long history of reprintings of the sonnet in editions of Gambara's poetry, including one by a man who knew her well and under her direction; he says editors have not read sufficiently carefully a letter from Pietro Bembo to Veronica Gambara in Bembo thanks her for a sonnet which previous editors and biographers identified as "Vinca gli sdegni (see Chiappetti, No. XI, pp. 324-327; also Rizzardi's notes, p. 81, n.iv). The letter may also be found in the same above 1552 edition of Bemo's Letters, reprinted in 1564 Vol IV, No. LXXXIV; the letter is dated September 16, 1538. The reference in the letter is to a sonnet about about the Virgin Mary ("il leggiadrissimo sonetto vostro fatto di Nostra Signora"). The lack of a specific citation of a line or any specific description makes this letter less conclusive as evidence; it may be that "Vinca gli sdegni" was not sent with the letter of September 16th, but that does not make the sonnet Colonna's. The attribution to Gambara really rests on the long history of attributions to Gambara beginning with Ruscelli who knew her.

More recently, in the 1995 edition of Gambara's Rime Bullock suggests the poem Gambara sent to Bembo for which he thanks her is "O gran misterio e sol per fede inteso!" ("Sacred virgin, your beautiful body"). See 1995 Bullock, pp. 155-56n.


Vincere i cor più saggi e i re più alteri

The traditional case for attribution to Veronica Gambara:

"Vincere i cor più saggi e i re più alteri" (To conquer the shrewdest proudest of kings): first printed in 1759 edition of Gambara's poems and letters edited by Felice Rizzardi (No. 8, p. 8); and then reprinted in the 1879 edition by Pia Mestica Chiappetti (No. 8, p. 10); and afterwards reprinted in all the scholarship and translations dedicated to Gambara as by Gambara. (McAuliffe's work is on Colonna.)

To examine the re-attribution of this sonnet to Vittoria Colonna by Bullock requires a summary of some of his "Veronica o Vittoria? Problem di attribuzione per alcuni sonetti del Cinquecento", Studi e problemi di critica testuale, 6 (1973), pp. 115-131. Bullock begins by telling the reader what an arduous task is an edition of Vittoria Colonna as her work occurs in 53 manuscripts dedicated mostly to her, and in miscellaneous collections numbering more than 340. One result has been a continual misattribution of poems by Veronica Gambara to Vittoria Colonna and vice versa. In three pages he disposes of the wrong attribution of Gambara's Stanze, "Quando miro la terra ornata e bella" and her sonnet, "A l'ardente desir c'hora m'accende", to Vittoria Colonna. Both are clearly by Gambara: the proof is in Ruscelli's statement and printing of the first, and a firm indication that the sonnet was another one Gambara sent to Pietro Bembo.

That leaves another six which were attributed to Vittoria Colonna in the 1550 Arrivabene collection which has had influenced subsequent scholarship. Of these the sixth has been firmly placed in Colonna's column: "Sono il principio e parlo a voi mortali". Bullock then deals with the other five, one of which is "Vincere i cor". First he quotes a letter by Arrivabene and describes his procedure in a way which is aimed at proving that Arrivabene's scholarship was very poor. This enables him to dismiss the reality that 5 of the 6 poems are by Gambara, and despite occasional lapses by people who followed Arrivabene and gave all 6 to Colonna, have generally been attributed to Gambara. He then goes on similarly to dismiss Rizzardi's scholarship (based on some minor mistakes in dates, looseness of argument as well as faulty manuscript bases which Rizzardi shares with everyone previous to Bullock.

Nontheless, Bullock then goes on to agree that four of the five which Rizzardi argued were by Gambara are indeed by her, and offers fresh evidence for such claims: they are none of them found in any other manuscript in which they are attributed to Gambara and a couple of them have indisputable attributions elsewhere, e.g, "Là dove più con le sue lucid'onde, dice chariamente nel secondo e nel terzo verso La picciol Mela le campagne infiora/De la mia patria, e ci permette così di attribuirlo alla Gambara in quanto il Mella (come oggi viene chiamato) scorre a Brescia città universalmente nota come patria di Veronica".

Bullock differs with Rizzardi only about "Vincere i cor più saggi e i re più alteri" and "Vinca gli sdegni e l'odio vostro antico". His argument on behalf of attibuting "Vincere" to Colonna are 1) it is separately attributed to Colonna in five manuscripts; 2) its style reminds him of Colonna's; and 3) Colonna has a number of sonnets to Charles V.

My feeling is Bullock's article on the confused attribution history of poems by Veronica Gambara and Vittoria Colonna witnesses a desire on Bullock's part to move poetry from Gambara's column to Colonna's: the article ends with a restatement of Bullock's "case" of "Vinca gli sdegni e l'odio vostro antico" which he attributes to Colonna as further proof that "Vincere i cor" is by Colonna. This is taking what has yet to be proven as further firm evidence.


Se a quella gloriose e belle etate

The recent case for attribution to Veronica Gambara:

"Se a quella gloriose e belle etate" (which I English as "If in that radiant beautiful age ..."): Jacopo Sannazaro died on August 6, 1530; this sonnet was copied out in a letter from Veronica Gambara to Pietro Bembo and he responded with a thank you in which he cited its opening line. It was labelled "lost" by scholars of Bembo and those who read Gmbara's letters, but in the later 1880s found in a manuscript group of poems otherwise by Gambara from which in 1890 Emilio Costa took eleven poems that had not been printed by Ruscelli, Rizzardi or Chiappetti and which he argued were by Gambara; unfortunately, Costa seems not to have known about the 1531 letter; the manuscript was studied by Alethea Lawley and when she discovered the one left over, she decided it must be by Colonna so included and translated it in her 1889 life and small edition of unattributed poems of Vittoria Colonna; Lawley's work lies behind Alan Bullock's decision to argue it is Colonna's and include it in his 1982 edition of Vittoria Colonna (No. E16, p. 211) which I cite because it is the only place in readily available hardcopy print where the reader may find it. I have checked all the evidence offered in the recent essays on Gambara's poetry, the miscellanies in which it is found, and the history of the scholarship, and find nothing to contradict any of the above.

Bullock assigns the above poem to Vittoria Colonna for the following reasons: It has never been printed as by Veronica Gambara. Emilio Costa rejected it, and Alethea Lawley found it in an appendix to a manuscript with two others by Vittoria Colonna. The sonnet also appears in another manuscript which contains a large number of poems by Vittoria Colonna(Ve2). The only writer to attribute this poem in print to Gambara thus far is Maud Jerrold.

However, Bullock ignores a letter by Pietro Bembo dated June 16, 1531, in which Bembo thanks Gambara for sending him 2 poems on the death of Sannazaro and in which he explicitly cites the first line of "Se a quella." As translated by Maud Jerrold, the exchange runs:

I have just made two sonnet on the death of Sannazzaro, and send them to you as to my light and guide", to which he replies: "As for the sonnets, both seem to me most beautiful. They are simply, they are lovely, and infinitely affectionate and graceful: I congratulate you upon them ... I cannot say for certain which is the most charming, but the one which begins Se a quella takes my fancy most", see Maud Jerrold, "A Sister Poet, Veronica Gambara," Chapter 6, an interlude in her study of Vittoria Colonna's life and works, Vittoria Colonna, with Some Account of her Friends and Her Times, New York: Dent, 1906, pp. 141-142

The complete letter is printed by Chiappetti, No. 4, pp. 309-11; it may also be found in a 1552 edition of Bembo's letters (reprinted in 1564), pp. 26r-v, dated June 16, 1531. The exchange and part of the letter Gambara sent with the sonnets to Sannazaro and Bembo's letter in reply are also reprinted in Italian in Courten (pp. 67-68). Here is the significant passage in the original Italian from Chiappetti:

Voi potete vedere come io son diligente, che alla vostra cortese e dolce lettera, nella quale erano i due sonetti vostri fatti per la morte del Sannazaro . . . Quanto a'sonetti, essi me sono paruti bellissimi l'uno e l'altro. Sono puri, sono vaghi e affezionati ed onorati, infinitamente. Io di loro mi rallegro con voi, et ben faceste a mandargli al signor Musseltola. Per avventura non ne averà la buona anima del Sannazaro alcuno di veruno altro così bello, come questi sono. De' quali sicuramente non saprei dire quale più leggiadro sia, se non che quello che incomincia Se a quella mi prende più l'animo . . .

Nowhere in the letter as printed is there any sign this poem is by anyone other than Gambara -- though one could speculate that Gambara has sent Bembo poems on the death of Sannazaro by someone else but not told him they are by someone else.

Gambara's classical landscape poems show her imitating Sannazaro. Colonna does not imitate him. Here is one by Gambara very much in Sannazaro's vein: Onorate acque, e voi. liti beati. It is true, however, that the poem escaped all the older Italian editors of Gambara's poetry, but then it escaped many editors of Colonna's poetry too.

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