The best books about women in Renaissance Venice

Gina Buonaguro Author Of The Virgins of Venice
By Gina Buonaguro

Who am I?

My goal as a writer is to revive lost women’s stories through historical fiction. After co-authoring several historical novels, our last mystery set in Renaissance Rome, we decided to set the sequel in Venice. When we decided to split amicably before finishing that novel, I had spent so much time researching Renaissance Venice that I instantly knew I wanted to set my first solo novel there and focus on girls and women whose stories are so frequently lost to history. So began a quest to learn everything I could about the females of 15th and 16th-century Venice, leading me toward both academic and fictional works of the era.


I wrote...

The Virgins of Venice

By Gina Buonaguro,

Book cover of The Virgins of Venice

What is my book about?

In The Virgins of Venice, an engrossing coming-of-age novel set in 16th-century Venice, one young noblewoman dares to resist the choices made for her: marriage or convent.

The books I picked & why

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Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent

By Mary Laven,

Book cover of Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent

Why this book?

Mary Laven’s readable academic book Virgins of Venice is the definitive resource on the topic of nuns in Renaissance Venice. She explores every aspect of what it was like to be and live as a nun during a roughly two-hundred-year period, when most convents were filled with high-status women of no religious calling, forced to live there by their fathers and the strict social conventions of the time.

Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent

By Mary Laven,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Virgins of Venice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A portrait of 16th and 17th century Italian convent life, set in the vibrant culture of late Renaissance Venice. Early 16th century Venice had 50 convents and about 3000 nuns. Far from being places of religious devotion, the convents were often little more than dumping-grounds for unmarried women fron the upper ranks of Venetian society. Often entering a convent at seven years old, these young women remained emotionally and socially attached to their families and to their way of life outside the convent. Supported by their private incomes, the nuns ate, dressed and behaved as gentlewomen. In contravention of their…


In the Company of the Courtesan: A Novel

By Sarah Dunant,

Book cover of In the Company of the Courtesan: A Novel

Why this book?

Told from the point of view of a guard who happens to be a dwarf, this enjoyable, page-turning novel is about a courtesan who escapes the Sack of Rome in 1527 to ply her trade in Venice. As the dwarf and his mistress infiltrate their way into the highest ranks of Venetian society, they must contend with the mysteries and dangers found in every echelon of one of the Renaissance world’s greatest cities.

In the Company of the Courtesan: A Novel

By Sarah Dunant,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Company of the Courtesan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor’s army blew a hole in the wall of God’s eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.

Thus begins In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant’s epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy. Escaping the sack of Rome in 1527, with their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino, head for Venice, the shimmering city born out of water to…


The Midwife of Venice

By Roberta Rich,

Book cover of The Midwife of Venice

Why this book?

This evocative novel tells the story of a Jewish midwife making her way in a very Christian Renaissance Venice. Along with all Jews confined to the ghetto at night by doge’s decree, Hannah is not permitted to help Christians with her medical knowledge. However, when her husband is taken to Malta and sold as a slave, Hannah finds that certain laws can be broken, for the right price.

The Midwife of Venice

By Roberta Rich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Midwife of Venice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Not since Anna Diamant’s The Red Tent or Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history. A “lavishly detailed” (Elle Canada) debut that masterfully captures sixteenth-century Venice against a dramatic and poetic tale of suspense.

Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers using her secret “birthing spoons.” When a count implores her to attend his dying wife and save their unborn son, she is…


Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

By Joanne M. Ferraro,

Book cover of Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

Why this book?

This accessible academic work brings to life the inner workings – and breakdowns – of marriages at a time when annulment was the only option. Through court and ecclesiastical proceedings and petitions written by both sexes, the lives of ordinary women – including sexual relations, domestic abuse, cheating, and financial problems are made even more real by the voices of friends, neighbors, and in-laws.

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice

By Joanne M. Ferraro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on a fascinating body of previously unexamined archival material, this book brings to life the lost voices of ordinary Venetians during the age of Catholic revival. Looking at scripts that were brought to the city's ecclesiastical courts by spouses seeking to annul their marriage vows, this book opens up the emotional world of intimacy and conflict, sexuality, and living arrangments that did not fit normative models of marriage.


Ciao, Carpaccio! An Infatuation

By Jan Morris,

Book cover of Ciao, Carpaccio! An Infatuation

Why this book?

A beautiful little book that showcases the paintings of early Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, we see many women in his works. Some of saints, some bordering on the fantastical, a few quite realistic – all the women in Carpaccio’s art would have been inspired by real women living and working in Venice in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Ciao, Carpaccio! An Infatuation

By Jan Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ciao, Carpaccio! An Infatuation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the course of writing Venice, her 1961 classic, Jan Morris became fascinated by the historical presence of a sometimes-overlooked Venetian painter. Nowadays the name of Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1520) suggests raw beef, but to Morris it conveyed far more profound meanings. Thus began a lifelong infatuation, reaching across the centuries, between a renowned Welsh writer and a great and delightfully entertaining artist of the early Renaissance. Handsomely designed with more than seventy photographs throughout, Ciao,Carpaccio! is a happy caprice of affection. In illuminating the life of the artist and his paintings, Morris throws in digressions about Venetian animals, courtesans, babies,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Venice, Italy, and the Renaissance?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Venice, Italy, and the Renaissance.

Venice Explore 46 books about Venice
Italy Explore 264 books about Italy
The Renaissance Explore 56 books about the Renaissance

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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