The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus

A Novel

Book - 2004 | Random House trade paperback edition.
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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.
Publisher: New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004.
Edition: Random House trade paperback edition.
ISBN: 9780812968972
Branch Call Number: FIC DUNANT
Characteristics: xv, 403 p. ; 21 cm.


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The Renaissance in Historical Fiction

The Renaissance is one of my favorite eras in history. It was a period of European history between the Middle Ages and the Modern era (roughly 1300-1600), marked by great social change, scientific advancements and flourishing culture. The Renaissance gave us artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the banking House of Medici, the scandalous Borgias and so much more. Naturally, this… (more)

From Library Staff

If you want to explore the Italian Renaissance, look no further than Dunant. She captures 15th century Florence perfectly, and this is one of her best.

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Mar 28, 2019

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant is a fascinating novel that takes place in 1492 when the main character, Alessandra Cecchi, was 14 years old. Alessandra had a love for art and philosophy, but as the youngest daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant, she was unable to express her wisdom in the company of others. Struggling under the repression of her parents’ rules and her brothers’ cruelty, Alessandra craves for freedom. The novel begins with the welcome of a shy, young painter who is instructed by her father to paint the walls of their chapel. Automatically, Alessandra is drawn to their share of interest in art, but the sermons of Savonarola and the corruption of Florence that follows, and Alessandra’s sudden marriage, pulls her away from the young painter but also drives her to open new possibilities with her art with the freedom she finally receives. The Birth of Venus explores the life of a young women during the Renaissance in Italy, and although some believe that this book was Alessandra’s love story, I believe it was about the challenges she faced against herself. I rate this book 2.5/5 stars and recommend it to ages 14+. @ilovefood of the Hamilton Public Library Teen Review Board

Jan 15, 2018

A very enjoyable book. I love historical fiction especially set in cities I've visited. The prologue gave it an interesting twist without being a total spoiler and made many aspects of the tail understandable during the read. Will certainly look for more works by this author.

Jul 20, 2017

I loved the setting (Renaissance Florence) and it's a page turner. But aspects of the story are hard to buy, particularly the love story at the novel's center.

Nov 15, 2015

I liked it. I read this book because I was going to Florence and wanted to read some novels that were set in the location. This book gave me a sense of what Florence was like 15th century and added some context to my visit.

Mar 05, 2015

Florence, Italy, XV century. Art, faith in God, the influence of the church on the daily life, love ... The book is beautiful, is written in such a way that it can be put in the shelf of classical literature. I have not read such works for long time, constantly bumping into mediocre bestsellers. And in addition this book is filled with such unexpected twists in the plot, that make it a good match for the most popular thrillers.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

Set in fourteenth-century Florence, this beautifully written coming of age story is a tale of art and love, betrayal, power and religion. It brings alive the city's history at its most dramatic period through the passionate voice of young Alessandra, the talented daughter of a rich cloth merchant.

Feb 07, 2014

A good story, well told; not great literature, but several notches above chicklit. Dunant uses the trope of the ahead-of-her-time, headstrong young woman with a (mostly) supportive family, to lead us through the Bonfire of the Vanities period in renaissance Florence. The bit about the painter's identity was a bit contrived, though.

Aug 07, 2013

One of the first books I have truly enjoyed in a long time. A story of an unconventional girl in Renaissance Florence.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 17, 2013

Set in the Italian Renaissance, this novel brings alive the history of Florence during its most dramatic period. A compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion and power, told through the passionate voice of a sixteen-year-old heroine.

Aug 23, 2011


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