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Getting Under Their Skin – Art History and Fiction

Getting Under Their Skin – Art History and Fiction

Sarah Dunant, novelist, broadcaster and critic, gave a lecture  entitled “Getting Under Their Skin – Art History and Fiction”.

Sarah’s research into the position of women’s lives in Renaissance Italy, through the decoding of paintings, provided the platform for three best-selling novels.  The search for the heroine in Florence led to ‘The Birth of Venus’ encompassed frescoes and portraits by Raphael, Botticelli and da Vinci. She was ultimately discovered in a picture entitled ‘A Young Woman’ by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Venice is the setting for ‘In the Company of the Courtesan’. In the 16th century marriage was carefully regulated by the city’s oligarchy and this led to a courtesan culture below the surface as illustrated by Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’. Central to the story is the narrator, a dwarf taken from ‘Arrival of the Ambassadors’ by Carpaccio.

The convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara provides the plot for ‘Sacred Hearts’. Daughters from good families who were not considered marriageable were placed in the convent at the age of 14 or 15. Research in the last 30 years has revealed they were well educated and many were talented musicians and artists, considering themselves “married to Christ”.