The Birth of Venus

Dunant_1I’m not yet clear on what it has to do with contemporary art business, but The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant is a great read.

For those of us who love reading about the Florentine Renaissance, Dunant’s book puts us right there. It’s alive with the colors, textures, and characters of the 1490s, weaving a novel with historical facts. Of course, it’s the time of the radical preaching of Savonarola, who strikes fear in the hearts of the Florentines. His words lead to the destruction of untold numbers of artworks at the Bonfire of the Vanities deemed ungodly (my word). [There’s a lesson to be learned here about the power of words. Been working on your artist statement?!]

BotticelliAt the heart of the novel is Alessandra Cecchi, a young woman who wants to be, gasp!, a painter. We hear, in passing, stories of frescoes by Uccello and Ghirlandaio, and the hidden-away Birth of Venus by Botticelli (afraid of Savonarola’s wrath).

As narrator, Alessandra writes, "I really think until that moment I had believed that artists somehow came directly from God and therefore had more of the spirit and less of man about them." (page 14)

I couldn’t put the book down for the last 100 pages!

Image: Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1485. Tempera on panel. Collection of Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

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2 comments to The Birth of Venus

  • Teresa Owens

    The Birth of Venus can’t seem to decide what it is: many the ideas are wholy contemporary and inappropriate to the period, others may fit the period but are uncomfortably judgemental to the modern mind. Even the discussion of art is superficial at best. In fact, this is little more than a bodice ripper dressed up in some Renaissance art.

  • Yes, I agree that much is superficial about the art. It is certainly NOT about art, but the context in which art was made at that time. But I did enjoy it for pure entertainment. I’m interested to know what you think is “whol[l]y contemporary and inappropriate to the period.” I suppose I wasn’t reading for depth–just summer reading pleasure.