The Renaissance in Historical Fiction

The Renaissance is one of my favorite eras in history. It was a period of European history between the Middle Ages and the Modern era (roughly 1300-1600), marked by great social change, scientific advancements and flourishing culture. The Renaissance gave us artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the banking House of Medici, the scandalous Borgias and so much more.

Naturally, this makes it a fascinating era to read about in historical fiction. Whether you’re reading about popes or peasants, the setting comes to life in these novels.

One of my favorite writers of historical fiction about the Renaissance is Sarah Dunant. Her writing is polished and rich, and the plots of her novels are thrilling and full of intrigue. I recommend starting with The Birth of Venus, about a young woman who falls in love with the artist hired to paint her family’s palazzo. It's set against the backdrop of 15th century Florence, with the radical Dominican friar Savonarola igniting tension throughout the city. Dunant also has an engaging two-book series about the Borgia family, beginning with Blood & Beauty. There was much more to this noble house than rumors of murder and incest, but their rise to power certainly makes for interesting reading.

Artists are a popular subject in Renaissance historical fiction. Stephanie Storey's atmospheric Oil and Marble is about the rivalry between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raphael, Painter in Rome is her latest novel, about the Italian painter and architect, Raphael. Alyssa Polombo's The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a lush novel about Botticelli and his muse, Simonetta Cattaneo (she also has a recent novel about the Borgias, The Borgia Confessions). Philip Kazan's The Painter of Souls is the beautifully written tale of the painter Fra Filippo.

Whether you are interested in the arts or political machinations, you are bound to find a good read when you explore the Renaissance in historical fiction.