The Back of the Book: This ambitious, richly evocative story of love, art, religion, and power, set in Renaissance Florence, is brilliantly realized historical fiction.
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 precocius mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.
But her adolescent freedom is drawing to a close, for Alessandra’s parents are arranging her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, out in the streets, Florence has become a battleground between the reactionary followers of the fundamentalist monk Savonarola and those of the Medici family, with its love of luxury and the arts. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising opportunity it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.
NotJustLaura’s Review: I first came across Ms Dunant on Radio 4 where Sacred Hearts was being read. I was captivated by the story and resolved to seek out her work. The Birth of Venus is the first of her Renaissance books and my first visit to that era. Ms Dunant is as much of an artist as the characters she brings so vividly to life. Reading this book, there were times when the hair on the back of my neck really did stand on end! This is neither a safe nor a comforting read. Indeed, it sometimes steps over into the macabre. Nonetheless, I found it exhilarating and only wish that I had the next volume sitting beside be as I write.