Reviewed by Charlene Diane Jones
The Medici Boy Hardcover
by John L’Heureux
Astor + Blue Editions
April 2014, Hardcover: 346 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1938231506
God in the guise of famous 15th Century Florentine sculptor Donatello, the search for the transcendent in everyday life by fictional character Luca Matteo and destiny shaping by the historic figure Lorenzo Medici play out against a backdrop of depravity and sodomy in John L’Heureux’s great read The Medici Boy.
L’Heureux employs a tactic also used by Eva Stachniak in her exciting book The Winter Palace. There, Stachniak places a young nobody, a Polish girl named Varvara within the Palace and eventually with her eye literally to a peep hole through which the story of Empress Elizabeth, who preceded Catherine the Great, unfolds.
In The Medici Boy it is Luca Matteo of humble origins who reveals the workings of daily life within the bottega of the great Donatello. While Varvara must steal her vision of the inside workings of the Great Empress’s private chambers, Matteo works openly side by side with his icon Donatello whose description, through Matteo’s eyes, invokes an old Testament sense of God himself, “…it seemed to me nothing short of the Final Trumpet could have interrupted him. He bent over the bozzetto with an intensity impossible to describe. His hands were quiet, they seemed to rest on the air. He had long thin fingers that hovered above the wax as if he were conferring a blessing. As I watched him, he seemed to slip out of time…I thought the wax would melt beneath his gaze.”(p.43)
Donatello, whose concentrated gaze and one time kiss brings to life the embittered Matteo as well as the bronze, or marble upon which the great Master lays his hands seems to breathe life not only into the statues he creates but into the very air breathed by those fortunate enough to share it with him.
Donatello is portrayed as Godlike in his talent, his stamina for long days of extremely hard work and in his capacity to understand and forgive himself his own failings.
That last is a strength Matteo lacks. In his judgements of others, Matteo cannot forgive either Agnolo, nor the master, nor ultimately himself.
Whetted appetites abound throughout the work: that of the young Matteo for release of his own juice, for the village whore who gives him more than her body when they make love while she has fever, the appetite of Agnolo, the irresistible youth for whom Donatello, his appetite and skill for sculpture already legendary in his lifetime, acquires an all consuming appetite, and Agnolo himself ruled beyond common sense or self preservation by an appetite gone rogue.
These hungers of the flesh stand over and against trust in God, the search by most characters in the book for the will of God, for an accurate interpretation of that Will. Every event braids throughout their lives as mystery and superstition concerning God and His Will. Every disaster from the Black Plague that regularly scythes its wake through the population, to harsh drought and thin crops sources itself in the Will of God.
Is it the Will of God Donatello should be supported by the great patron of the Arts Lorenzo de Medici? These characters whom L’Heureux throws into flesh as skillfully as Donatello’s sculptures seem to breathe, believe so.
Yet the belief in God and God’s will does nothing to prevent Matteo’s ongoing suffering. In the dust filled bottega Luca lives, breaths, and suffers jealousy as he describes the joy Donatello takes in the young beauty Agnolo. the reader feels the timber of Matteo’s humanity, his struggles with jealousy, his vicious temper and vile responses to the younger man Agnolo. Matteo writes in admirable honesty of his belief he ought feel a remorse he cannot conjure for such insults. His self reflections compel us toward empathy as we see our own personal failure, our failure as humans marked in his.
Our failure as humans, our depravity also rings through the pages that describe the torture wrought upon a man found guilty of sodomy. We as Politicians, as Church Fathers, as the crowd of peasants assembled to watch and cheer at this man’s agony see ourselves revealed as depraved.
If the writing contains a weakness it is in the author as apologist for the sexual urges of all men. From the first pages, where Matteo reveals his nightly struggle with his biology we are to assume the urge that thrusts in the flesh of the male is superior, somehow more virulent and unrelenting than that of say, the lovely woman who takes Matteo first to her bed.
Overall the book is a great read and not to be missed.
About the reviewer: Charlene Diane Jones entered her sixth decade (in this lifetime) with the enthusiasm and optimism of a child. Her faith in reincarnation, karma that comes to us as circumstance, and ongoing healing feeds her sense of hope. Her latest book The Stain reveals more about repeating cycles, and how three women’s lives remained tangled. Does one free them all? Find out more at: http://www.soulsciences.net