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What It Was Like To Be A High-End Sex Worker In The Renaissance

Updated 10 Mar 2019 9.7k views14 items

Five hundred years ago, Venice was one of the wealthiest cities in the world — and it was Europe's capital for Renaissance harlots. In Venice, courtesans not only earned a fortune, but they were also revered as intellectuals. Women like Veronica Franco and Tullia d'Aragona published poems and books, gaining a reputation across the continent. They rubbed shoulders with royalty, sat for portraits with the most famous artists of the Renaissance, and they often lived in luxury. And their fashion, including 2-foot-tall platform shoes, inspired noblewomen to imitate their style.

But life wasn't always easy for courtesans. They were accused of witchcraft and arrested for breaking frivolous laws. Courtesans were never supposed to cross social boundaries, and when one aristocrat married a courtesan, the people of Venice revolted and threw the woman in jail. While Renaissance Venice legalized pleasure work and tried to protect courtesans by discouraging pimps and encouraging matrons, the city's high-end women of the night still faced challenges.

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