Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Alessandra is not quite fifteen when her prosperous merchant father brings a young painter back with him from Holland to adorn the walls of the new family chapel. She is fascinated by his talents and envious of his abilities and opportunities to paint to the glory of God. Soon her love of art and her lively independence are luring her into closer involvement with all sorts of taboo areas of life. On excursions into the streets of night-time Florence she observes a terrible evil stalking the city and witnesses the rise of the fiery young priest, Savanarola, who has set out to rid the city of vice, richness, even art itself. Alessandra must make crucial decisions about the shape of her adult life, as Florence itself must choose between the old ways of the luxury-loving Medicis and the asceticism of Savanorola. And through it all, there is the painter, whose love will change everything.

I am starting to feel that maybe I have a problem with art related books, I always feel like I should like them more than I actually do. This has happened in the past and it happened again with this The Birth of Venus.

The book opens with the death of a nun and the sisters discovering that she had a shocking tattoo. The story then moves back to the late 15th century where Alessandra Cecchi is a young girl from a wealthy family in Florence. She is interested in art and resents the lack of freedom women have. While part of the story is her fascination with painting and her relationship with a painter her parents hired, most of it is her desire for more freedom which she believes she will find in her marriage to an older man, her relationship with her husband which is not as she believed him to be and the historical turmoil surrounding Savonarola and the invasion of Florence by the French.

I'm afraid I found myself more interested in those political aspects than in Alessandra, who didn't really appeal to me as character, or her artistic worries. In fact most of the characters didn't seem to be fully explored. I do understand that art was Alessandra's way to freedom, her revolt against the world who did not let her be who she wanted to be and who did not let women be more than inferior beings. However I'm afraid she failed to hold my interest enough to make me explore all the undercurrents and symbolism of the novel.

But it might be just me, if you like your historical fiction with a feminist perspective and lots of symbolic images this might be for you.

Grade: 3.5/5


  1. The only Sarah Dunant I've read was Sacred Hearts and I'm afraid I didn't finish it! I'll read this eventually, but it's not at the top of my list!

    Great review Ana!

  2. I'm reading the book now, but I'm having trouble getting into it (enough trouble that I picked up something else that I'm enjoying more). Given all the raving reviews I've seen, I'm glad I'm not alone in not falling in love with the book right off.

  3. I didn't care for this one or Sacred Hearts, but I *loved* In The Company of the Courtesan. If you're interested in giving Dunant another try, I'd recommend that one.


  4. This sounds interesting, its too bad the central character didnt have more appeal.
    Great review.

  5. I'm more a family epic reader and don't go much for the political so I'll pass on this one. You write well and I enjoyed reading your review.
    All the very best.

  6. I liked this odd little book. It wasn't what I thought it would be but I enjoyed it for the most part.

  7. I do have this book and Sacred Hearts, so I do plan to read them. I didn't care for The Company of the Courtesan at all. The Courtesan was just so crude.