Veronica Gambara’s (1485-1550) family boasted a number of distinguished intellectuals, including her grandmother and great-aunt, Ginevra and Isotta Nogarola. Educated in literature, philosophy, and languages at an early age, Veronica became a poet early in life. She married her cousin, Giberto X, Countof Coreggio, in 1509.
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 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.
“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.” [“Ille meos, primus qui me sibi iunxit, amores/abstulit: ille habet secum serveteque sepulcro.”]
After his death in 1518 she took charge of the land as well as the education of her two children. She continued writing and by 1530 was known as a poet throughout Italy. Veronica had many ties to the different forces battling in Italy at the time, including France, Germany, Spain, and the papacy. She took an active role in the military defense of Correggio and addressed poems to various leaders on the necessity of peace that were by turns flattering and stern.
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 very little because after long usage I have become inured to her many blows. From my little palace.]
Approximately 80 of her poems and 150 of her letters are extant, although there is no full English translation of her work.
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. 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. 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.
Brooklyn Museum. “Biography of Veronica Gambara”. Accessed at https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/veronica_gambara
Moody, Jim and Ellen Moody. “Under the sign of Dido”. Accessed at http://www.jimandellen.org/gambara.biography.html
Oxford Bibliographies. “Veronica Gambara”. Accessed at http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195399301/obo-9780195399301-0311.xml