"Looking back now, I see it more as an act of pride than kindness that my father brought the young painter back with him from the North that spring. The chapel in our palazzo had recently been completed, and for some months he had been searching for the right pair of hands to execute the altar frescoes. It wasn't as if Florence didn't have artists enough of her own. The city was filled with the smell of paint and the scratch of ink on the contracts. There were times when you couldn't walk the streets for fear of falling into some pit or mire left by constant building. Anyone and everyone who had the money was eager to celebrate God and the Republic by creating opportunities for art. What I hear described even now as a golden age was then simply the fashion of the day. But I was young then and, like so many others, dazzled by the feast."
An excerpt from Chapter One of "The Birth of Venus" by Sarah Dunant
I have had the singular luxury and pleasure to borrow this book over the weekend. It's lovely. Actually, the textures of the book reminded me of "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" (Tracy Chevalier's book as interpreted in a movie). However, in contrast to the Flemish setting of Chevalier, Florence is so much more lush (and worldly). I couldn't wait to get home every day and finish as many chapters as I could before my need for sleep pulled me away from it. There were a few poignant moments for me and I couldn't help crying in some chapters. Well, that's me. I'm such a crybaby.
What I loved about it was how particular it was. The family relationships were so real and deeply drawn that I couldn't help but be pulled into the drama. And yet at the same time, the gender issues were brought forth as well in the way that the heroine was so determined to do what she wanted in a world where there were so many feminine restrictions (yes, even in a city heady with passion, wealth and art). This part reminded me of "A Dangerous Woman" (how inaptly titled though I loved the film. It was about a famous Venetian courtesan named Veronica and how she fought a battle for herself and for all Venetian women with the choices that she made).
Anyway, I recommend this book especially to those who appreciate art and history (especially Florentine art and history), the feminine question and plain good old romance.