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.  Someone is poisoning the beautiful women of Venice. First, a courtesan, then a noblewoman, then a young singer. All of them had their portraits painted by a handsome Venetian artist for his commission of a powerful English lord, for a “Gallery of Beauties.”    

 The artist chooses the women he paints at random, and when he sees the rabbi’s daughter, Dina, a beautiful widow who is more interested in studying the Talmud than her appearance, he persuades her to pose for her portrait. With the artist’s encouragement and the wardrobe he provides, Dina hides her identity and becomes the enchanting “Diana”. Now she finds herself among the upper echelons of Venetian society— and in the path of a murderer.

Is it the English lord, the artist, or one of the Council of Ten, the ruthless men who control Venice, who are behind the murders? With the help of a powerful courtesan, Dina navigates a dark path to survive, and must make choices that could sever her from all she holds dear forever.

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Excerpt about the Council of Ten:

"A guard took his arm to steady him, and then he stepped forward to stand meekly before the men he most dreaded, the Council of Ten.

The elite of the nobility silently regarded him with solemnity and scorn. They sat in high-backed chairs at a semi-circular table with the Doge Antonio Pruili facing him at their center.These men represented generations of the oldest, most prominent families of the city.

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Excerpt about the Lion’s Mouth :

"How he regretted all of his boasting, and his arrogance in revealing his purchase of the notorious book! He had many rivals for the patronage of the noble families, and any one of them could have placed the damning note in the Bocca di Leone, the Lion’s Mouth, the repository for anonymous accusations at the side of the Doge’s palace:

“Fornari possesses a forbidden book”

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Excerpt about the Ghetto of Venice

The frenzy of Friday shopping had already begun, even this early, for foods and special delicacies that had to be purchased and prepared today to be consumed over the coming Sabbath, when all work, including cooking would cease. Anticipation was in the air, for although it was a weekly holiday, it was an event that merited dining on the best food one could afford, and bathing and dressing in the best clothes in one’s possession.

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Excerpt about the Gallery of Beauties

“Each wall will have three niches with three portraits, a collection of twelve beautiful women from the most beautiful city in all the world. It will certainly be worthy of being called, ‘The Gallery of Beauties’.”

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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