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The Birth of Venus

by Sarah Dunant

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,0341601,415 (3.66)1 / 200
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)
  1. 00
    Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (lizchris)
    lizchris: Both about Medieval convent life
  2. 00
    I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis (jordantaylor)
    jordantaylor: 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 (157)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (160)
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
With Savonarola, the Bonfires of the Vanities, and the religious fervor that swept Florence in the 1490s as its historical reference, Dunant has chosen to tell the story of Alessandra Cecchi, a strong-willed girl who influences a young painter. Coming from an upper-class family and schooled beyond the normal level for girls of her time, Alessandra has a love of art and an understanding of classics that drive her to live an unusual life, and give her a platform from which to bear witness to both the wonders of, and dissolution of, the great city of Florence.

I enjoyed the details about the city, the history and the culture of 1490s Florence. It was interesting to see how the death of Lorenzo de Medici affected the entire future of the city-state he ruled and how easily it slipped from enlightened to fanatic. I had been unaware that Florence had its own version of the Spanish Inquisition, but then I suppose most places suffered from such excesses during this age. I believe it would have been very difficult to be a woman at this time, let alone a woman who wanted to be more than just a wife and a mother.

The story was well-written and flowed well, the characters were realistic and interesting. Alessandra Cecchi is painted as vividly as the Renaissance art she so admires, and the Florence of her time comes alive.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
While this novel took me a little longer to read than others of the same length, it was only because I needed to absorb and savor all of the beautifully detailed descriptions of life and art during the late Renaissance. This is a gorgeous novel of a very improbable story that I would love to believe could have happened. A story of a woman's life who was an intellectual, philosopher and artist...as much as a woman could be at that time.

It's a day after writing the previous paragraph and I decided to come back and write a little more. I can't stop thinking about the ending and how...disjointed it felt. You know those writing exercises where you are giving the last sentence of a story and you are required to write a story based on that? That's what this book's ending and prologue feels like. It's almost disingenuous to the rest of the rich, flowing story because none of it makes much sense to how the character was portrayed as a woman deeply invested in god. I'm going to knock a full star off for it. ( )
  Tosta | Jan 4, 2022 |
(8.5)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.

This was just the book I needed to immerse myself. I loved the depiction of life in Florence in the 15th century and of course I found my self searching the wonderful art works and fashions referred to in the story. This is another book that has sat on my shelf for way too long and a wonderful read. ( )
  HelenBaker | Apr 19, 2021 |
I enjoyed reading this book immensely and now I've finished it I miss the main characters a lot-always a good sign. When reflecting back perhaps some of the plot, particularly right at the end, was a little far fetched but I was so engrossed it really didn't matter at the time. I will search out some more of Sarah Dunant's books. ( )
  Patsmith139 | Mar 15, 2021 |
Nice descriptions of the work of artists in 1490 trying to paint religious scenes in chapels. Girl loves doing art, part of a rich enough family to allow her to do it. As a young girl gets interested in the painter hired by her family who paints her as the Virgin Mary. When religion gets political, her family has her get married to an older man. He is gay, in love with her brother who hates her, but he let's her continue painting. A one night stand with the painter causes a pregnancy, husband does not know since they did have sex. As their preacher gets more hateful of homosexual behaviors, everyone's life becomes in danger. Loved her negro attendant with her down to earth thinking that saved them in their against rules town exploring, her health, helped her in the convent with her daughter. Her Mom added an interesting twist. Ended weird. ( )
  kshydog | Dec 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
Dedication
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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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.

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