Salons: A Haven for an open mind

Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Venetian women became the most sought after courtesans in the world. Beautiful, educated and often accomplished singers, poets and artists who were paid small fortunes for their companionship by politicians, poets, merchants and nobles. Despite modern connotations, these were respected members of the court and did much to forefront the womens liberation movement.

Veronica Franco, famous Venetian Courtesan and Salon Host

The most successful of these women lived independently in luxury. Her home became a hub of social activity where she would provide entertainment and amusements to Europe’s elite – artists, writers, aristocracy. As there were few public places to socialise outside the home, guests would gather in the Courtesans salon to discuss literature, politics and the days current events. It was at these salons that many of Venice’s most prominent courtesans earned their reputations for being remarkable conversationists, educated and talented writers who often compiled their own work. It was an opportunity for men to seek the company of intelligent and outspoken women and for ladies to advance the cause of their sex.

The idea of hosting a salon became popular in Europe, especially in Paris. Here the salons were often frequented only by women, who were free to discuss politics, literature and sexuality without being overshadowed by men.

Parisian Salon circa 1728

The most famous of these groups was known as ‘The Blue Stockings’ or ‘Les Bas Bleu’ (which came to mean ‘intelligent women’) – an appellation that travelled to Victorian England salons hosted by female nobility in London. In anti-Semitic parts of Germany, wealthy Jewish women organised salons in their homes, open to all ethnic backgrounds in an attempt to break down social barriers.

Salons throughout the world have come to be associated with a gathering of like-minded people to discuss often taboo topics in a safe and intellectual environment. While they have declined in a time when no subject is forbidden, the provision of a safe, non-judgmental environment where discussions can be lead by knowledgeable experts is becoming very fashionable once again.

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