Prostitution in Renaissance Italy: The “Necessary Evil”

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Great post on prostitution and same sex attraction from Dirty Sexy History.

Dirty, Sexy History

fig-1-brothel A 15th-century depiction of a brothel. You can imagine the man walking in saying, “Well, at least the prostitutes are women.”

In the wake of the fourteenth-century plague, which killed over half of Italy’s populations, cities were faced with a crisis. To make matters worse, Italian men seemed uninterested in repopulating the peninsula, struck by a sin worse than death—same-sex attraction. Fifteenth-century preacher Bernardino of Siena railed that “even the Devil flees in horror at the sight of this sin.”

Italian cities responded by encouraging prostitution. In 1403, the government of Florence opened an office to promote prostitution in order to prevent the worse sin of sodomy. Venice legalized prostitution in 1358 and created a brothel district in the commercial heart of the city, the Rialto.

fig-2-meretrice Cesare Vecellio’s “Public Whore” waves a flag and wears high-heeled chopines. (1598)

Prostitution was a reality of life in Renaissance Italy. But in spite…

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