The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant is an historical fiction novel taking place in Florence, Italy in the late 1400s, at the close of the Florentine Renaissance. Our main character, fourteen-year-old Alessandra Cecchi, is the daughter of a well-to-do textile merchant. Alessandra is precocious, book-smart and well-read. She’s also a talented artist– staying up late into the night to practice drawing and study sculptures, etchings, and paintings– much to the dismay of her strict mother. Men, as her mother put it, are not interested in a woman who writes and draws, and who might try to outwit or challenge them intellectually.
When the Cecchi family commissions a young painter from a monastery to paint their family cathedral, Alessandra is fascinated, and yearns to learn from him. Though conversing with him is considered improper, Alessandra dares to sneak into his quarters, and begins to kindle an affection for him. But she soon learns that her marriage has been arranged to an older man— the only man who doesn’t mind Alessandra’s “unsuitable” intellectual and creative endeavors. Unfortunately, Alessandra discovers that her new husband holds a deep secret, dooming their marriage to danger and deceit, and a complete lack of fulfillment.
I found the book to be well-written and difficult to put down. I recommend this novel, especially to art lovers. A good read.