The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant is one of those "bestselling" books I've been seeing around for the last few years and kept meaning to read it. Finally I found a copy of it at the Mid-Manhattan Book Sale for less than a dollar. It also fits nicely into my historical fiction reading challenge.
The story takes place in 15th century Florence when Italy's decadent ways are starting to become a little too flamboyant for the church. Alessandra Cecchi is the 14-year old daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant who is starting to make that transition from childhood to adulthood. To make things more difficult, she also has a passion for drawing and painting during a time when women weren't particularly allowed to become artists. Into the Cecchi household comes a young painter from the North who's hired to do the frescoes for the household's chapel. Of course Alessandra is fascinated by the new painter. Alessandra is soon faced with the role of womanhood which in that day and age is either marriage or the convent.
I thought this was a good read but it wasn't anything amazing. Maybe because 15th century Italy has been done in so many different ways in many different stories. I do like the interspersion of the Medici family and the fanatical monk Savonarola who tries to clean up the city a little too fervently. I did like Alessandra and loved her spunk. Sometimes some of the characters and their language were, I thought, unnecessarily crude. However, the beginning of the book drew you into the story and while the ending wasn't an impossible happily-ever-after...it did leave you somewhat satisfied.
By the way...I love that Alessandra was an artist because I love love art history. So just for fun, here's the painting The Birth of Venus by Botticelli:
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