This seems to be a part the movie overlooked. Maybe because they had to shoe-horn in a love story. Kind of like The Social Network! The producers needed to imply that all of her career decisions were made because of love and romantic ideals.
Basically, in Dangerous Beauty, Veronica becomes a courtesan because her patrician lover (Marco Venier) marries another woman, and she determines this is the only way she can have him. In reality, Veronica married to a physician named Paolo Panizza. It was certainly a “good” marriage to a respectable man (again, she was not becoming a courtesan because her family was completely destitute). The couple had a daughter, but Veronica found life as a wife and mother stifling. She asked that her dowry be returned to her own use and, when her husband refused, she initiated divorce proceedings.
At least, this is suggested in her will. There are other rumors that her husband may have been abusive.
Either way, as a single mother with a young child, Veronica decided she was going to follow her mother’s path and become a courtesan. And she spent years after the divorce fighting to get her dowry back.
This wasn’t unusual. I mean, opting to divorce your husband was uncommon, but young women choosing to become courtesans wasn’t. According to Patricia Brown, author of Private Lives of Renaissance Venice:
“For a young woman without a dowry, a courtesan’s life might well seem more appealing than a life of drudgery as a servant or as an unhappy bride married to someone she did not love and perhaps was required to work for as well.”
So it was pretty common.
Though Veronica was uncommonly great at it.