Renaissance Woman: A Female Artist Finds Sanctuary in Marriage to a Gay Man in the Medici-Era Novel the Birth of Venus

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The Birth of Venus * Sarah Dunant * Random House * $21.95

Alessandra Cecchi is an ungainly girl of 16 with a passion for drawing. She has talent as well, "truth" in her eye and hand, according to the young painter her father has hired to decorate the family chapel. But this is Savonarola's Florence, where the "Angels" gang roam the streets enforcing the curfew and women are turned away a the doors of the Cathedral. Already the Sumptuary Laws against ostentatious display are being enforced with vigor, the poor eager to see the rich stripped of their fur collars and pearl-entrusted combs. The army of Charles VIII is streaming toward the gates of the city, and Alessandra's mother insists that young girls aren't safe. Her good family won't protect her. She must marry at once or enter a convent. So what if the groom is a stranger to everyone but her handsome brother Tomaso?

English author and former TV-radio personality Sarah Dunant's eighth novel, The Birth of Venus would be a simpler, harsher, and shorter book if Alessandra had, like many girls in her position, no choices. But her unusual intelligence attracts a cultivated, much older husband who will allow her to make art--something she'd had to hide from her own family--and even take a lover if she is discreet. …