Since the Renaissance Venetian courtesans had been a by-word for beauty and sophistication, celebrated by artists such as Bartolomeo Veneto, Titian, Palma Vecchio and Palma Giovane and (albeit rather maliciously) by writers such as Pietro Aretino.   The Elizabethan traveller Thomas Coryate was obviously taken by their charms -“such is the variety of the delicious objects they administer to their lovers, they want nothing tending to delight”- but also struck by their numerousness, estimating that there were at least 20,000 courtesans on Venice and the islands “whereof many are esteemed so loose that they will open their quivers to any arrow”.   The street walkers “drest in red and yellow like tulips, their breasts open, their faces painted a foot deep” represented one end of the scale of prostitution, but courtesans at the other end of the scale were often highly cultivated.   The sixteenth-century Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, for example, was a notably cultivated writer of poetry and many courtesans made advantageous marriages.    Despite the attempts by the Venetian government to lay down strict sumptuary laws so as to make prostitutes easily identifiable, it was often very difficult to distinguish them from “respectable” married women particularly during the period of the Carnival and an example of the potential pitfalls is Carpaccio’s Venetian Ladies in the Museo Correr.  Long described as courtesans, these two ladies have been identified as members of the noble Torelli family.   But those in search of erotic pleasure did not need to look far.  Having failed to take to bed Chiara Michieli, an attractive middle-aged woman, James Boswell’s “fancy was roused by the tales… of Venetian courtesans”.  He “went to see them” and reported, quoting Horace, that he had “fought not without glory” but the wounds of a previous campaign were barely healed when he “received fresh ones”.     While the Elizabethan traveller Thomas Coryate was dazzled by the courtesans, the French writer Charles de Brosses, was more taken by the attractiveness of Venerian nuns.  To hear their comments, play the audio below: