The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
This has been highly recommended by two of our members and is available in paperback.
Publication Date: February 17, 2004
Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.
But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola’s reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.
The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain’s most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.
Dunant's lush and intellectually gripping novel is set in fourteenth-century Florence at the height of the Renaissance. Fifteen-year-old Alessandra Cecchi does not fit the mold of the compliant Florentine woman. She avidly consumes books written in Greek and Latin as she keeps abreast of the art movement, hoping to some day create her own masterwork. The city is teeming with artisans working for the Catholic Church and the ruling Medici family, and sightings of Botticelli in the piazza or the infamous Michelangelo are commonplace incidents in a city that thrives on beauty. The years of Florentine decadence come to a close when the French Army invades Italy and Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola begins a puritanical crusade. To protect her from the city's tumultuous atmosphere, the Cecchis arrange a marriage for Alessandra, but the man they have chosen has closely guarded secrets and Alessandra's heart also belongs to someone else. This is a beautifully written and captivating work. Elsa Gaztambide
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
From Publishers Weekly
In this arresting tale of art, love and betrayal in 15th-century Florence, the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant seeks the freedom of marriage in order to paint, but finds that she may have bought her liberty at the cost of love and true fulfillment. Alessandra, 16, is tall, sharp-tongued and dauntingly clever. At first reluctant to agree to an arranged marriage, she changes her mind when she meets elegant 48-year-old Cristoforo, who is well-versed in art and literature. He promises to give her all the freedom she wants-and she finds out why on her wedding night. Her disappointment and frustration are soon overshadowed by the growing cloud of madness and violence hanging over Florence, nourished by the sermons of the fanatically pious Savonarola. As the wealthy purge their palazzos of "low" art and luxuries, Alessandra gives in to the dangerous attraction that draws her to a tormented young artist commissioned to paint her family's chapel. With details as rich as the brocade textiles that built Alessandra's family fortune, Dunant (Mapping the Edge; Transgressions; etc.) masterfully recreates Florence in the age of the original bonfire of the vanities. The novel moves to its climax as Savonarola's reign draws to a bloody close, with the final few chapters describing Alessandra's fate and hinting at the identity of her artist lover. While the story is rushed at the end, the author has a genius for peppering her narrative with little-known facts, and the deadpan dialogue lends a staccato verve to the swift-moving plot. Forget Baedecker and Vasari's Lives of the Artists. Dunant's vivid, gripping novel gives fresh life to a captivating age of glorious art and political turmoil.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.