Gaspara Stampa was born in Padua in about 1523 to Bartolomeo and Cecilia Stampa. Her father, a jewel merchant, died in the early 1530s leaving the family impoverished. Cecilia moved to her native city, Venice, where Gaspara and her sister Cassandra became celebrated musicians. The organist Girolamo Parabosco praised Gaspara’s “sweet and elegant words” and her “angelic voice that struck the air with its divine accents and made such sweet harmony that it awakened spirit and life in the coldest stones.” The scholar and publisher Francesco da Sansovino dedicated several works to Stampa and praised her “most perfect judgement” as a singer of Boccaccio’s verse.
Even in her early twenties, Stampa’s fame was such that a set of madrigals by Perissone Cambio could be dedicated to her as “a lady of high merit” with the appeal that she should find him “worthy of a place where you place the countless throng of those who adore you, and love your rare talents and beauties.”
During the twentieth century a habit grew up of speculating that Stampa may have been a courtesan, although there is no evidence for this and it is far from clear in any case what a courtesan was. The only even half-reliable information we have about her private life and affections appears in the set of over three hundred poems, mostly sonnets and mostly addressed to Count Collaltino di Collalto, which Cassandra published immediately after Gaspara’s death in 1554. The sonnets are among the finest female utterances in Western literature.