Lives of the Courtesans. Reviews

Review in Library Journal of Lives of the Courtesans: Portraits of the Renaissance (Rizzoli International, 1986): “During the Renaissance courtesans became the personification of ancient love goddesses in art and literature, and, according to Lawner, it is difficult to separate the myth from the reality of their lives. They were also popular models for biblical heroines, but one must not assume that all beautiful women in Renaissance paintings were courtesans. Lawner spent 15 years researching this fascinating work, and it is a valuable addition to women’s studies as well as Renaissance scholarship. The many illustrations are excellent. …… Eleanor Riley, Getty Conservation Inst. Lib., Marina del Rey, Cal.”


The New York Times Sunday Book Review calls Lives of the Courtesans: “…an exceedingly handsome, well-designed art book dedicated to images of Renaissance female beauty. But most arresting are its revelations about the qualities of character that have shaped Western ideas about femininity and romantic love.”


Art and Antiques magazine: “According to Lynne Lawner, the honest courtesan was among the first modern women to establish a relatively independent economic status. She spent hours between lovers perfecting her physical beauty, sharpening her wit, practicing her lute playing and poetry making in lavishly draped quarters. Her success, claims Lawner, resided in her ability to present herself as a creature of sensual pleasure and intellectual refinement: as an object defined by physical presence and yet strangely mysterious. Lives of the Courtesans draws upon contemporary literature, verse, letters, and journals to document the laws, dress codes (they often wore breeches under dresses for quick disguise and more rapid movement throughout the city), and behavior of such fashionable companions of prelates, princes, and diplomats as Matrema-non-vole (Mother-doesn’t-want-me-to) and Camilla of Pisa. As an art book, it examines the portraits of the period in light of artistic traditions and mythic heritage – courtesans as Leda, Flora, or Danae – and finally shows how Western notions of romance and female beauty have been shaped.”


Vogue magazine calls Lives of the Courtesans “one of the most tantalizing art books in years.” “Lynne Lawner airs the dirty linen of some prominent figures of the Renaissance. Raphael was given a prostitute [sic.] to keep him company while he frescoed the Villa Farnesina (where his patron’s own mistress is immortalized in the guise of Galatea); the “Mona Lisa’ may have been the courtesan of a powerful Medici leader. A contemporary critic noted that no artist could equal the colors these women painted themselves.”


In a New Year’s issue, “Playboy” magazine named Lives of the Courtesans “one of the sexiest books of the year…illustrated tales about famed Renaissance courtesans.”

Comments are closed.