A NEW NOVEL SET in Venice in the EARLY 17th Century

Renaissance Italy was not only renown for its paintings but also for its poisonings.   Poisonings were so common in Italy that the risk was high of being poisoned by one of your guests or sometimes, your host. Poisons were known as 'inheritance powders" because they were so commonly used by women to rid themselves of abusive husbands or fathers.  In Venice, they became the favorite for assassinations ordered or carried out by an exclusive group of powerful men who controlled the city, the Council of Ten (Consiglio dei Dieci).

In this story, poison, the covert machinations of the Council of Ten, and a lascivious English lord, all menace the beautiful women whose portraits are being painted for the Gallery of Beauties. 

"Aqua Tofana" a colorless, odorless, tasteless,  but effective poison.  "Venice Treacle" was the antidote,  which contained up to 50 different potions and tonics.

"Aqua Tofana" a colorless, odorless, tasteless,  but effective poison.  "Venice Treacle" was the antidote,  which contained up to 50 different potions and tonics.

TOUR of venice

The Gallery of Beauties

 A tale of 17th Century Venice 

Venice, 1620.  Darkness falls and the gates of the Ghetto of Venice are locked and barred,  but that does not stop Diana, the daughter of the Ghetto's rabbi, who is determined to slip out to visit her secret lover, a portrait painter.  While she is in danger of arrest if she is found outside the Ghetto, her lover urges her to take another risk -- to pose for a portrait which would be included among the portraits of the most beautiful women of Venice.   


The portraits have been commissioned by a powerful English lord, for a "Gallery of Beauties" designed for his stately home in England. When one by one,  each woman chosen to be painted is poisoned, Diana worries she may be next.

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Excerpt about the Council of Ten:

"The leader of his captors prodded him as he disembarked towards the great staircase that led to the chambers of the Doge and the Council of Ten. As he mounted them he remembered that these were the very same steps that were said to be haunted by the ghost of the old Doge Marin Falier, beheaded by the decree of the very same Council he was now destined to be judged. "

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Excerpt about the Mouth for Secrets:

"As they pulled away from shore, Fornari sought to recall which of his enemies could have placed the damning note in the "Mouth of Accusations", the repository for anonymous accusations, with the words: “Fornari possesses a forbidden book”. He supposed that it was such an accusation that had led to his current predicament."

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Excerpt about the Ghetto of Venice

"It was not unusual for Rabbi Modena's short speech to be well attended by outsiders, cardinals and countesses who paid for the Ghetto gates to be opened and were often carried in sedan chairs to the doors of the Scuolo Spanuola, the largest of the synagogues.  On holidays, noble women came to see the satin hangings and lavish decorations of the synagogues, but tonight, Diana knew they came only to hear her father."

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Excerpt about the Gallery of Beauties

“Each wall will be filled with portraits, the portraits of the most beautiful women from Venice, the most beautiful city in all the world. It will be known as the Gallery of Beauties.”. 

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Excerpt about the Festa della Sensa

"It was then that they saw the small boat, unmanned and adrift coming down the side canal.  Diana felt a slight chill, a foreboding of what she would find in the lone boat floating along the narrow canal, bumping against its sides.  She was not surprised to see, as the boat bobbed alongside her, that there was a figure, wrapped in a dark cloak, not moving, inside of it."

Nina Wachsman

Nina Wachsman


 As a descendant of a dynasty of rabbis, one of whom was a contemporary of  Rabbi Leon de Modena, I have many emotional ties to Venice.  I am a frequent visitor to the Ghetto, which has changed little in nearly five hundred years. My mother's sabbath candlesticks were once torch-holders, in all likelihood, pawned by a nobleman in the Ghetto centuries ago.

This story has been in my head for years, and got its start when I read the autobiography of Rabbi Leon de Modena.  His worries and fears for his children --his daughter Diana, and his sons -- an alchemist, a pirate and an adventurer-- are not very different from those of a parent today.   


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