This novel is set in the 15th-century, in the early Italian Renaissance, and takes the reader to the side of the great sculptor Donatello in his bottegas (workshops) in Florence and Padua, as well as evoking what life was like in that era.
The story is told through the eyes of the fictional Luca di Matteo, who suffers a rough early life. Illegitimate, he is raised by greedy adoptive parents who are wool dyers. He is too lustful to be a monk and not talented enough to be a painter, and nearly dies of the plague. At age twenty, he becomes an apprentice/assistant to Donatello.
Luca's life is pretty pleasant until his adoptive parents' youngest natural son, Agnolo Mattei, shows up. He's pretty useless around the bottega, but Donatello is besotted by him.
Eventually Agnolo becomes the model for a bronze statue of the biblical David commissioned by the powerful Cosimo de' Medici. Reading about the processes involved in sculpting the statue and pouring the bronze was fascinating!
The author, John L'Heureux, is a former English professor who saw Donatello's statue on his first visit to Florence. According to his author's note, it "seemed to me personal, erotic, a testament to the sculptor's sexual obsession for the teenage boy he had created. Someone, I thought, should write a novel about it." He later received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grant to spend time in Italy doing research for what ultimately became The Medici Boy.
As with all good historical fiction, by the end of this book, I was eager to know who was real and who was not, and to learn more about Donatello and his works. In an afterword, the author provides brief biographical sketches about the "real" characters in the book, as well as a two-plus-page bibliography. Little detail is known about the real Donatello and many of the other real personages in the book, giving the author a lot of leeway for accuracy in his novel. Publisher Astor + Blue also has an excellent reader's guide for individuals and book clubs.
© Amanda Pape - 2014
[This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review with links to them, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. The book will be donated to my university library. ETA: Here is a link to a review in The Washington Post.]