The Birth of Venus|Sarah Dunant
The Birth of Venus
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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.


  • ISBN-13: 9780812968972
  • ISBN-10: 0812968972
  • Publisher: Random House Trade
  • Publish Date: November 2004
  • Dimensions: 8.04 x 5.32 x 0.99 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.74 pounds
  • Page Count: 448

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Set in Florence in the 15th century, this captivating novel is as opulent and provocative as the period in which it takes place. Weaving in elements of intrigue, conflict and suspense—including a serial killer who has the city on edge—Dunant captures all the intellectual ferment and political upheaval that made the era so dynamic. The novel's heroine, 14-year-old Alessandra Cecchi, is the daughter of a prosperous cloth merchant. She would like to marry—but only because such a union might allow her to indulge a rather unconventional desire: to become a painter. Her beautiful sister Plautilla has more traditional ambitions, hoping to wed a wealthy suitor and supervise a bustling household. Their parents, anxious to protect Alessandra from the dangers afoot in the city, arrange a marriage for her to a man who seems to be harboring a dangerous secret. But Alessandra has already lost her heart to another. Dunant's female characters, including Erila, a North African maid, and Signora Cecchi, Alessandra's fussy, fretful mother, are complex, completely developed individuals who transcend stereotype. Much more than a prettily depicted coming-of-age tale, the book draws on various genres, and the result is a first-rate follow-up to Dunant's acclaimed thriller, Mapping the Edge. The narrative is reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, but Dunant has her own voice and style, and fans of historical fiction are sure to savor them. A reading group guide is available at