In 1537 the eighteen-year-old Cosimo Medici inherits the dukedom of Tuscany and with it the many riches of his Medici ancestors. In one of his villas a magical painting, hidden in storage for more than forty years, is discovered and arouses Cosimo's curiosity. The painting depicts the goddess Venus, "who hath no mortal face", rising from the sea and floating to shore on a giant shell. The young duke yearns to know more about the painter, Sandro Botticelli, who created this masterpiece for Cosimo's great uncle. Cosimo seeks out the ageing Alessandra Lippi, the woman purported to be the model for the Venus and for Botticelli's many spectacular Madonnas. He finds her on a small estate outside of Florence and, after speaking to him of her colourful youth as the goddaughter of Botticelli, she bequeaths to Cosimo the memoirs she kept secret along with her unrequitted love for the master painter. This novel brings to life the artistic and political turmoil of fifteenth-century Florence through the stories of Alessandra Lippi. At the centre of her narration, Alessandra follows Botticelli's career and reveals the mystery and controversy surrounding the celebrated "Birth of Venus".
Alessandra speaks of a time of artistic glory that Cosimo hopes to return to Florence. But it is also a time of scandal and violence offset only by the definitive image of love and beauty that Botticelli unknowingly created for the next five centuries to come.
Carolyn Street LaFond received her bachelor and masters degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle. She now writes short fiction and teaches Italian and French in Olympia, Washington, where she lives with her family. This is her first novel.