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The Birth of Venus: A Novel by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus: A Novel (edition 2004)

by Sarah Dunant

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5,7151521,237 (3.67)1 / 194
From its first arresting sentence, Sarah Dunant's magnificent novel embroils the reader in the coming-of-age story of Alessandra Cecchi, a fourteen-year-old girl with a strong will and a passion for painting. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain's most innovative writers of literary suspense. 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. 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.… (more)
Title:The Birth of Venus: A Novel
Authors:Sarah Dunant
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2004), Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

  1. 00
    Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (lizchris)
    lizchris: Both about Medieval convent life
  2. 00
    I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis (joririchardson)
    joririchardson: More historical fiction set in 1400's Florence, closely tied with the art world and the religious teachings of Savonarola.
  3. 11
    The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone (ddelmoni)
    ddelmoni: Great historical fiction about Michaelangelo and the Italian Renissance.

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English (149)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (152)
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
Great story, hard read. Overall I enjoyed it. ( )
  nwieme | Mar 19, 2020 |
It wasn't a work of great literature, but it gave me a window into a small part of the history of Florence - the time of the Bonfire of the Vanities. A young woman of a wealthy family must be married off even though she'd really rather run off and be a painter. She does the best she can within the confines of her life to notice what's going on around her and to have an opinion on it. Though the story is sad and melodramatic, it was a good listen. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
This was a book I wanted to be really good, and in many ways it was, but I found it dragging along at times. Sarah Dunant does a great job of embedding rich historical events and information into the storyline, but at times the description overshadowed the plot and one hundred pages would go by without much seemingly happening. Aside from the lulls here and there, the story was interesting with a strong female protagonist figuring out her place in the world during this time period. ( )
  justagirlwithabook | Jun 2, 2018 |
As a 60 year old man who mainly enjoys thrillers this would not normally appear to be my sort of book.
However i found it riveting absolute quality, a very entertaining read from start to finish, it brought history to life it was so atmospheric, authentic with lots of colour and detail, and a real sense and feel of time and place.
Highly recommended. ( )
  Gudasnu | May 28, 2018 |
I enjoyed immersing myself in the Savonarola years in Florence. An interesting time period, and I don't know many HF books specifically set in that time/place. I thought I knew in the beginning how the plot would play out, but I was happy to be wrong. The author threw in quite a few twists and turns. I initially rated this higher, but as it's marinated in my brain, I've adjusted down. There were a few too many things that kept bothering me.


One of those was how Alessandra reacted to her husbands marriage bargain. I can understand it should be a shock, but she waffles between seeming acceptance and awful bitterness. Later on when talking with her mother, her mother asks her if she had known would it have made any difference, and she replies that she hadn't thought about that before. I can't believe a woman in her situation would not have gravely considered the alternatives right off the bat! But maybe I'm too pragmatic. I could see some might expect her to express a mourning at the prospect of never having a deep and loving relationship with her husband, but this is very early 16th century Italy - women didn't have those sorts of expectations in a marriage at that time. I think they knew the realities well enough to know just how bad a marriage could really be. Your husband taking up with your brother - well, not good, but it could definitely be much worse.

There was also the way she waffled between disgust at her husbands actions with her brother and acceptance. At one point she experiences pangs of religious piety - wondering what sacrifices she must make to save her husband's and brother's souls - but then a page or two later she says or does something to make it seem like she's not really bothered by it. Alessandra mostly seems to object to the marriage arrangements mostly out of jealousy than anything else. That just doesn't quite ring true of the era for me, but I'm hardly a historical scholar, so I could be wrong about that.

I also cannot believe the part where Erila takes her out in the middle of the night she she is 8 months pregnant on a wild errand to hopefully meet the painter at the gates. She always discouraged Alessandra's relationship with him, and she's going to pick that moment to change her mind?

So, a few flaws, but overall very enjoyable. ( )
  catzkc | Mar 23, 2018 |
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To my mother, Estelle, and my daughters Zoe and Georgia.
First words
No one had seen her naked until her death. (Prologue)
Looking back now I see it more as an act of pride than kindness that my father brought the young painter back with him from the North that spring.
There is one thing I have forgotten. (Epilogue)
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The birth of Venus -- translations include "De geboorte van Venus, liefde en dood in Florence; Veneros gimimas; Venuksen syntymä; Venus' fødsel, kærlighed og død i Firenze; Venus födelse; Amor y muerte en Florencia; Amor e morte em Florença; Das Zeichen der Venus; la nascita di Venere; Narodziny Wenus"
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