prostitute or mistress

A courtesan was often a high-class prostitute or mistress, especially one associated with rich, powerful, or noble men who gave luxuries and status in exchange for her services. In Renaissance Europe, courtesans had an important role in high class society, sometimes taking the place of wives at social roles requiring diplomacy. Courtesans usually enjoyed more freedom than was typical of women at the time. For example, they did not have money problems, and were more independent. Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), the famous mistress and favorite of King Louis XV of France, was a courtesan. Courtesans also existed in many countries outside Europe, such as India and Japan.

Veronica Franco, famous Venetian poet and courtesan. Portrait by Paolo Veronese.
Madame de Pompadour, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

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  • Griffin, Susan. The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of Their Virtues. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.
  • Hickman, Katie. Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
  • Lawner, Lynne. Lives of the Courtesans: Portraits of the Renaissance. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.
  • Rounding, Virginia. Grandes Horizontales: The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

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