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Book Review

Book: The Birth of Venus
Author: Sarah Dunant
Published: November, 2004
Publisher: Random House, Incorporated


available from Amazon.com

Synopsis: Spirited and clever Alessandra is not quite fifteen when her father commissions a young painter to decorate the chapel walls in the family's palazzo. Fascinated by his talent, Alessandra is drawn to the painter but her developing relationship is interrupted when her parents inform her that they have arranged a marriage for her with a wealthy but much older man. Although her new husband promises her the freedom she wants, it does not come without a price. Alessandra meets her fate amidst the growing political and religious turbulence of 15th-century Florence.

Editor’s Review: Although I found The Birth of Venus to be a fascinating account of an historical era, I also found it to be a disappointing personal story. Many relationships in the story are explored but few if any deepen or resolve themselves or result in growth of the characters involved. The pivotal relationship between the main character, Alessandra, and the painter fall far short of the mark – can two people who have only been in each other’s company for a maximum of about two hours really kindle a love relationship that lasts through the years? Although it is considered an adult book and perhaps should be, considering the coarse language and sexual imagery, Alessandra has the maturity of a teenager; not surprising since she is only fourteen when the story begins. I found it a bit disconcerting that the first two chapters of the book were written in the present tense (giving it a childlike quality) which was then replaced inexplicably with the past tense. The understanding and resolution of Alessandra’s relationship with her brothers and mother were weak; her relationship with her husband had potential but still failed to satisfy. Her relationship with her slave was solid and unchanging. I found the opening prologue, set in the future, extremely intriguing, but the explanation at the conclusion seemed implausible, if not downright ridiculous. The historical account of Savonarola’s reign in Florence in the 15th century was, however, well done. I had heard of the Bonfire of the Vanities and the way that the author leads you to this historical event was entirely believable. The political issues of the times, though glossed over, were presented and various cultural elements of the era such as etiquette, medicine, clothing, food, social structure, and religious and social customs were woven into the fabric of the book. One exception to the plethora of details, however, was the art of fresco painting – a skill that requires much practice and is not something that a beginner could do successfully on the first try. Despite the shortcomings I’ve outlined, however, The Birth of Venus still manages to please many. When I checked out the book at the library, the librarian said, “Ooh, I just loved that book!” To each his own.





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 About
 the
 Author

Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at www.dianablake.net.