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Inspiration Encyclopedia → Venetian Courtesans

There were two types of courtesan. In one category was a type of courtesan known (in Italy) as the cortigiana onesta, or the honest courtesan, who was cast as an intellectual. In the other was the cortigiana di lume, a lower class of courtesan. Although the latter was still considered better than an average prostitute, the former was the sort most often romanticized and treated more-or-less equal to women of the nobility. It is with this type of courtesan that the art of “courtisanerie” is best associated.

The cortigiane onestewere usually well-educated and worldly (sometimes even more so than the average upper-class woman), and often held simultaneous careers as performers or artists. They were typically chosen on the basis of their “breeding”—social and conversational skills, intelligence, common-sense, and companionship—as well as their physical attributes. It was usually their wit and personality that set them apart from regular women. They were prostitutes in the sense that sex was one of their obligations, but unlike the average prostitute, sex constituted only a facet of the courtesan’s array of services. For example, they were expected to be well-dressed and ready to engage in a variety of topics ranging from art to music to politics.

In some cases, courtesans were from well-to-do backgrounds, and were even married—but to husbands lower on the social ladder than their clients. In these cases, their relationships with those of high social status had the potential to improve their spouses’ status—and so, more often than not, the husband was aware of his wife’s profession and dealings. (x)

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