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The Birth of Venus

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  96,440 ratings  ·  3,287 reviews
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 interrupt
Paperback, 427 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by Random House (first published March 6th 2003)
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Cheresa At the end of chapter 22, Alessandra and Cristoforo are having a conversation about his connection to Lorenzo the magnificent. He mentions Lorenzo hav…moreAt the end of chapter 22, Alessandra and Cristoforo are having a conversation about his connection to Lorenzo the magnificent. He mentions Lorenzo having a painting by Botticelli ( titled The Birth of Venus) and describes how the character Venus is portrayed in the painting. I'm thinking the characteristics of Venus are similar to Alessandra and may mirror her life which could be why the story is titled The birth of Venus. (less)
Heather Youinou I also had this reaction, but we have to remember that we are seeing this through the eyes and experiences of 21st century women, not those of that er…moreI also had this reaction, but we have to remember that we are seeing this through the eyes and experiences of 21st century women, not those of that era. Entering a convent during that time period was not viewed with surprise (or even shock and dismay) as it might be by many modern women, even religious ones.

What's more, the book does explain that that particular convent (at least initially) was especially tolerant, thereby allowing women to have a mutually helpful and open community without too much bother from men who were still pretty medieval in their treatment of women, despite living during the Renaissance.

Lastly, as already mentioned by Calliope100, apparently widows were vulnerable to exploitation and possibly even harm. The household, moreover, did not seem especially warm or loyal to her, so she might have been thrown under the bus at the first opportunity.

All that said, I still didn't like her ending up there.(less)

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Lesley Visutsiri
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
After reading this for the second time I wish I could give it higher than five stars. I discovererd new things about this book that I hadn't caught before. Such a wonderful book and I can't wait to read it for the third time!

This is an absolutely amazing book. The author has done a lot of research and it shows in her writing. This is a historical fiction. The imagery is wonderful and you really get wrapped up in the lives of the Character. Now that I have been studying Mythology I would like to
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Halfway through the book: I do NOT think this is a wonderful book. I am terribly disappointed. Description of Renaissence Florence is fine. I have no quibbles with that, but the plot is so foreseeable, so predictable. The characters seem as modern day caricatures. For me this is pure fluff. Am I learning anything new, to compensate for all my my other disappointments? No!

On completion: If you want to read a book about art during the Italian Renaissence read The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographi
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
A few points about this book:

If you choose to read it, skip the Prologue. It gives away the last quarter of the book. (I found this very frustrating.)

The middle of the book is fine. It's basic historical romance stuff with interesting, smart characters.

The end of this book sucks. The main character, and her best friend, make decisions which are both odd and unbelievable.

Perhaps you should skip the prologue, read the middle, then when you get to the last few chapters, instead of reading them, ski
Pauline Ross
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

----Pablo Picasso

Sarah Dunant, the British bestselling novelist, has penned a delectable and extremely tempting historical fiction, The Birth of Venus that is set against the backdrop of the Renaissance Florence and that which revolves around a young 14 year old girl who is not beautiful or skilled like her elder sister, yet her talent and eye for art and mind for translating languages is extraordinary but with the changing times, she
Pauline Montagna
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I sometimes wonder if it is safe for a novelist to attempt to portray cultures other than her own. Sarah Dunant is an English writer who now divides her time between London and Florence (half her luck!) I daresay she feels that, having studied Italian history and lived amongst Italians, she knows Italian culture. However, as an Italian woman myself, I know how Italians relate to the foreigners in their midst and they are not as easily understood as a British ‘Italophile’ might believe.

Ms Dunant
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
For some reason, I always feel the need to apologize when giving a high rating to a book that is not marvelously written from a technical standpoint--I think I've been privy to too many technical writing conversations. While this book is not a classic of literary style, it was a very good read. Its strengths rest in its emotional honesty at difficult moments. Dunant has an eye for those small defining gestures that convey volumes.

As a historical novel, it also covers some interesting territory.
May 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-the-best
Wow, I really enjoyed this book. I read it in a day. I didn't read it like I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix nor did I read it like I plan to read Book 6 on July 16, but I read it in a day it was that good. I'm just going to address my one major problem with the book before I go on to tell you exactly why I liked it so much.

Language. I don't know how they spoke in the 1490s, but some of the language seemed very current. Some of the slang used to describe various body parts and
Apr 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
With an overpowering deluge of verbs and a merciless amount of description, only surpassed by Tolkien taking 60 pages to walk around a mountain, I found myself continually drifting off. The novel has a meticulous feel to it, with robotic research covered by a light skein of unbelieveable emotion and a pseudo-attempt at mystery that is all gunked up. Like many books published by large corporations its inherent shallowness and malleability would make a great movie.
Jan 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: "people who want to hit themselves in the head with boards"- cousin Jared
Recommended to Rebecca by: Costco book table
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
I have had this book sitting on my bedside cabinet shelf for quite some time,as I was so disappointed by Blood & Beauty that I didn't feel like starting this title. But this is the Dunant I love & admire. I think she is better with a smaller fictionalised historical rather than a "big canvas" one.

Dunant writes so beautifully & I was enthralled by Alessandra's story with it's complex familial & matrimonial relationships. I feel in a platonic way that (view spoiler)
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: chick lit fans looking to branch out into historical fiction
As an avid historical fiction fan, I picked this book up hoping to learn a few things about renaissance Florence. Instead, I got a chick lit story set in an exotic locale.

The book wasn't exactly a let-down, but it was finished and quickly forgotten about. While I wouldn't urge you to stay away from it, any one looking for a serious work of historical fiction will be sorely disappointed.
David Eppenstein
This is a novel of historical fiction set in Renaissance Florence in the last quarter of the 15th century. The primary activity occurs during the repressive period of the Dominican monk Savonarola. The story is told as the memoir of an aging nun following her death. The nun is Alessandra Cecchi. Alessandra was the youngest child of a Florentine clothe merchant of some status and wealth. Alessandra has an older sister that is probably a typical Florentine girl of the period. Alessandra also has t ...more
Sarah Mac
This was a good book -- a bit soapy & quirky, but I like HF that treads the line between outlandish & erudite.

[NB.: This was a popular book club choice some 10-15 years ago, so there's a billion other reviews dealing with plot specifics. Read those if you want spoilers. :P]

The first hundred'ish pages are really slow & tedious, but it picks up once Alessandra gets married, & the story took some turns that surprised me. I think those surprises have to do with the somewhat cliché archetypes (Mary
With Savonarola, the Bonfires of the Vanities, and the religious fervor that swept Florence in the 1490s as its historical reference, Dunant has chosen to tell the story of Alessandra Cecchi, a strong-willed girl who influences a young painter. Coming from an upper-class family and schooled beyond the normal level for girls of her time, Alessandra has a love of art and an understanding of classics that drive her to live an unusual life, and give her a platform from which to bear witness to both ...more
Mar 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
I read this title for a book club and from the description, I thought it would make for a very good discussion. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to the expectations created by the inside flap.

If you like historical fiction, it does have a fairly interesting depiction of Renaissance Florence going for it--and I did learn some things along the way, like I usually do with good historial fiction. However, without giving too much away, the ending and the character development greatly disappoi
Mar 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A friend gave me this book as a birthday gift. Oddly, it was a book she'd never even read (and she's an even more avid reader than I am). She just indicated that she'd thought it looked like a good one, and as it was a "bestseller" she figured it must be. She wasn't wrong, however, for the first few chapters, I constantly wondered why on earth she'd pick out such a book (with such content) for me...

After convincing myself I was an adult and it was ok to continue (I still have alot of my mother'
Kate Quinn
Jan 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
A lovely debut novel about the Italian Renaissance. An old nun dies and her habit is stripped away to reveal a sensual and scandalous tattoo - but this is only the beginning. Alessandra is a girl of fourteen in fifteenth-century Florence, mesmerized by art and life when she should be preoccupied with marriage and suitors. Her imagination is fired by an intense young painter, but marriage brings her friendship and maturity as she realizes she has been wed as a shield to a kind but homosexual merc ...more
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good solid 4.5. This was a wonderful escape from the 21st century, which was exactly what I needed as I try to ignore the news of the day a little bit (I’m on a break, or trying). Of course, Florence in the late 15th/ early 16th century had its share of problems: a rising theocratic autocracy, brutal persecution of LGBT communities, epidemics, a lot of patriarchal BS . . . . oh, wait.

Well, anyway, a wonderfully-written and well-plotted book that fully engaged me in its world and had me rootin
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
I think I liked the idea of this book more than the actual book.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Besides being a good read, this novel has value in its portrait of life in Florence after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Alessandra Cecchi is the narrator who begins her story at age 14 as she becomes marriageable.

She cannot walk in Florence unchaperoned during the day, and not at all at night or be with a man alone. Her outings revolve around the family’s social visits, family occasions and church. For an education, she has to piggy back on that of her brothers. What she really wants to
Jess The Bookworm
Oct 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is set during Renaissance Florence, and follows the life of Alessandra, the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant who has dealings with the Medici family. Alessandra is young and innocent when she is married off to a much older man, and although she has more freedom than a woman would have had in those times, her life and marriage doesn't quite turn out as planned.

While Florence is going through tumultuous times, with struggles between the artistic and opulent Medici reign, and the fan
Aug 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Really 2.5 Stars.

First let me start by saying I'm surprised at how much I liked this book, yes even though I only gave it 2.5 stars. The Medieval era and the Renaissance are two of my least favorites times in history, and this book is rooted in the Renaissance. My main issue with the Renaissance is the overwhelming presence of religion in everything (art, daily life, literature, etc.). Of course I understand the importance of that time period and everything produced it in. However I'll spare you
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm finding it difficult to select a rating for this book. It begins with a bang (5 stars for interest, mystery, intrigue), slows to a disconnected simmer (2 stars) which cools to lukewarm (1 star). The story does pick up (2-3 stars) but then spirals into a disappointing ending that, to me, seems inconsistent with the character. (1 star).

Feb 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in historical fiction or art history
Recommended to Kelly by: Yuki
Ideas expressed/message/plot: Alessandra is an intelligent & talented young woman living in Florence during the Renaissance. She doesn't have too many options though - get married or join a convent. While she must to conform to the rules of society, she figures out a way to succumb to her own passion as well.

The book's prologue is truly one of the best openings to a story that I've ever read. After that, I found myself "slowed down," by the references to artists and artwork - sadly a testament t
Sep 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
This is a book that starts with an ending: the death of an elderly nun in a 15th century Italian convent. A mystery is sparked when it is discovered that the nun’s tumor appears to have been faked and she has an evocative tattoo entwining her torso where it has been hidden by her habit.

From there the story vaults to the beginning - to when this mysterious nun was a 14 year old Florentine named Alessandra. Alessandra is presented as the youngest daughter of a rich cloth merchant. She is clever,
Dawn Aschberger
Mar 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Dunant does a wonderful job blending historical events in with her fictional character, the blossoming young woman, Alessandra Cecchi. Alessandra is the daughter of a cloth merchant who endures, above all, corrupt religious leaders and an interesting marriage. Through Dunant's vivid descriptions of the time period , readers are transported to late 15th century Florence. The details given to the reader displayed Dunant's erudition and thorough knowledge of that time period. During the course of t ...more
Jun 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: women, people looking for a relaxing read
This book was a little bit chick-y, but I liked it anyway. It takes place in Renaissance Italy and it is fully aware that it cannot capture the beauty that it seeks to in any way, shape, or form. It is content merely to explore a few threads. Which bothered me on some level since I wanted more of the overwhelming, in your face, splashy sense of the era if I was going to read about it. But since I usually like quiet, intimate novels, it didn't bother me that much. It isn't especially deep, and th ...more
Rio (Lynne)
I made it 65 pages in, but I couldn't bring myself to finish. Another book I wanted to love! What a shame. Artist Domenico Ghirlandaio's was one of the great artists during the Italian Renaissance. The author weaves a story between Domenico and Alessandra Cecchi. Unfortunately, Alessandra's parents arrange a marriage for her to a much older man. Why did I lose interest when this story should have been so interesting? The author did that thing I hate. Pages and pages of unimportant details and de ...more
Sarah Dunant's gem of a book, "The Birth Of Venus," is a brilliant period piece written painted on the page with all the fire of oils then finished off with a glow emanating from the veneer that comes after being highly glazed. She masters the big four: Story— Imagery—Elegance—Intelligence, in such a "readable" way, I flew through it (or it, through me) and I finished it, cover to cover, in under two hours, whilst in a surreal haze. Okay. To be honest, the haze was probably from the real fever I ...more
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Sarah Dunant is a cultural commentator, award-winning thriller writer and author of five novels set in Renaissance Italy exploring women’s lives through art, sex and religion. She has two daughters, and lives in London and Florence.

Sarah’s monthly history program and podcast on history can be found via the BBC website.

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