The Medici Boy

The Medici Boy

4.3 6
by John L'Heureux

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The worlds of art, politics, and passion collide in John L’Heureux’s masterful new novel, The Medici Boy. With rich composition, L’Heureux transports the reader to Donatello’s Renaissance Italy, as witnessed through the eyes of Luca Mattei, a devoted assistant. While creating his famous bronze of David and Goliath, Donatello’s


The worlds of art, politics, and passion collide in John L’Heureux’s masterful new novel, The Medici Boy. With rich composition, L’Heureux transports the reader to Donatello’s Renaissance Italy, as witnessed through the eyes of Luca Mattei, a devoted assistant. While creating his famous bronze of David and Goliath, Donatello’s passion for his enormously beautiful model, Agnolo, ignites a dangerous jealousy that ultimately leads to Agnolo’s brutal murder. Luca, the complex and conflicted assistant, will sacrifice all to save the life of Donatello, even if it means the life of the master sculptor’s friend and great patron of art, Cosimo de’ Medici. John L’Heureux’s long-awaited novel delivers a monumental and intimate narrative of the creative genius, Donatello, at the height of his powers. With incisive detail, L’Heureux beautifully renders the master sculptor’s forbidden homosexual passions, and the artistry that enthralled the powerful and highly competitive Medici and Albizzi families.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Intensely appealing, viscerally gripping, and unfailingly human in its characters.", Booklist

"A novel bursting with love…John L'Heureux brings to life the bliss and treachery of the Italian Renaissance through prose as passionate as his characters. Deeply enjoyable, THE MEDICI BOY soars like an operatic aria, before breaking our hearts.", David Henry Hwang, Playwright, M. BUTTERFLY

"There is no time and no place and no human transaction that L'Heureux can't plunder…luminous, intelligent, funny, shocking, and yes: revelatory.", Kathryn Harrison, New York Times bestselling author of ENCHANTMENTS

Chicago Tribune
A writer who picks up his readers by the scruff of the neck and won't let go.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
L'Heureux's efforts to weave myth., extremity, and a religious note into [various] settings are high risk. The result is powerful and original.
New York Times Book Review
A deeply ambitious novelist, one who isn't afraid of dealing with dark themes and what it means to be fully human, especially in the frightening and ecstatic world we create behind the darkened bedroom walls.
The Instrumentalist, May 5, 2014 - Patrick Anderson
John L’Heureux, the author of this vibrant novel about the great Italian sculptor Donatello (1386-1466), explains in an author’s note how he came to write it:

'On my first visit to Florence I had the exhilarating experience of seeing Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia and later that same day seeing Donatello’s David in the Bargello. Michelangelo’s deeply moved me but Donatello’s was a revelation. It was naked in every sense and seemed to me personal, erotic, a testament to the sculptor’s sexual obsession for the teenaged boy he had created. Someone, I thought, should write a novel about it.'

That someone became L’Heureux himself, who over the years has published many highly praised novels. His luminous prose, swift narrative, love of art history and cool eye for human weakness make this one a pleasure to read.

Donatello’s story is set against the early 15th-century Florentine panorama of creativity, wealth, cruelty, piety and political unrest. In most regards, The Medici Boy is a story about art—indeed, genius—but it also turns on the grave dangers occasioned by the sculptor’s homosexuality (debated by art historians but assumed by L’Heureux) in a city where it was punishable by death.

The story is told by Donatello’s devoted assistant, Luca. Illegitimate at birth, by the age of 17 Luca had discovered both his talent for art and his passion for women. (When the priests warned that he would burn in hell for his lust, he decided to risk it.) At 20, he was hired as an apprentice to Donatello, who was then in his 30s and already a celebrated craftsman in wood, marble and bronze.

L’Heureux presents Donatello (formally Donato di Betto Bardi) as a man of great sensitivity, a humanist who captures the pain, sorrow and occasional joy of the saints he brings to life. The sculptor is in his early 30s when we meet him, and he has already won the friendship and patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici, the most powerful man in Florence.

It is Medici who commissions Donatello to mold a bronze statue of David, the Biblical conqueror of Goliath, an undertaking central to the novel. The complex process of creating a five-foot, free-standing bronze statue is explained in fascinating detail, but the more urgent drama lies in the sculptor’s passion for the boy who becomes his model. Agnolo is 16 and a child of the streets, selling himself to men and sometimes living with a soldier. But the soldier has gone to war, and Agnolo insinuates himself into Donatello’s studio, where his beauty and wiles captivate the sculptor.

Art historians have long noted how slender, even effeminate, Donatello’s David is, particularly in contrast to Michelangelo’s later, more heroic marble version. In L’Heureux’s account, Donatello fashioned his David to mirror the beautiful, vain, difficult boy who had enthralled him. Historians have debated why this otherwise nude David—at a time when nude male subjects were virtually unknown in Italian art—wore a peasant’s hat and a soldier’s boots as he stood insolently with one foot resting on Goliath’s severed head. As L’Heureux tells it, he was thus clad because that hat and those boots were what Agnolo often wore in the artist’s studio.

Luca is aware of Donatello’s attraction to 'comely youths,' but the sculptor had always been discreet. Now his passion for Agnolo not only throws his studio into disarray but puts the artist in peril. An angry Luca tells us, 'I had no concern for the wretched boy himself; he was vain and stupid and a whore; it was Donato in this new frightening blindness I was concerned for.'
Although homosexuality was common in Florence at the time, the penalties could be severe. They began with fines, but repeat offenders could face exile, the loss of a limb or even death by fire. The author provides one long, horrifying scene in which a known offender who allegedly raped a boy is led through the streets, whipped to excite jeering mobs and finally hanged—this is considered a mercy—before his body is burned.

Donatello’s passion for Agnolo does not quickly fade. He sadly tells Luca, 'We love where we must, not where we choose.' Inevitably, tragedy results, although not necessarily the one we expect. Yet for all the pain and heartbreak in L’Heureux’s portrait of Donatello, the artist’s work triumphed. You can see it in Florence today or glimpse it on the Internet; and next year you will be able to see a number of pieces by Donatello in a rare exhibition of his work at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City. But you may not fully appreciate his achievement until you read this remarkable novel.

JM Coetzee Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker Prize
"Against the background of the witch hunt against gay men in 15th century Florence, John L'Heureux has built a gripping story of love, genius, and betrayal."
David Henry Hwang Playwright
"A novel bursting with love…John L'Heureux brings to life the bliss and treachery of the Italian Renaissance through prose as passionate as his characters. Deeply enjoyable, THE MEDICI BOY soars like an operatic aria, before breaking our hearts."
Kathryn Harrison New York Times bestselling author of ENCHANTMENTS
"There is no time and no place and no human transaction that L'Heureux can't plunder…luminous, intelligent, funny, shocking, and yes: revelatory."
JM Coetzee
Against the background of the witch hunt against gay men in 15th century Florence, John L'Heureux has built a gripping story of love, genius, and betrayal.
David Henry Hwang
A novel bursting with love…John L'Heureux brings to life the bliss and treachery of the Italian Renaissance through prose as passionate as his characters. Deeply enjoyable, THE MEDICI BOY soars like an operatic aria, before breaking our hearts.
Kathryn Harrison
There is no time and no place and no human transaction that L'Heureux can't plunder…luminous, intelligent, funny, shocking, and yes: revelatory.
The Financial Times
A tremendous historical tale evoking the creativity and fervour of Renaissance Florence
The Washington Post
[L'Heureux's] luminous prose, swift narrative, love of art history, and cool eye for human weakness makes 'The Medici Boy' one pleasure to read.
Intensely appealing, viscerally gripping, and unfailingly human in its characters.

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Read an Excerpt

The Medici Boy

By John L'Heureux

Astor + Blue Editions

Copyright © 2013 John L'Heureux
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-938231-50-6


It is right and just to confess at the very start that it was fornication that took me out of the Order of Friars Minor and set me on the path of sin. I am an old man — perhaps sixty-seven — and make this confession at leisure and in detail since, imprisoned in this monastery, I have nothing left but time. And, to speak truly, I write this for pleasure as well. Having long left behind me the possibilities of lusting and loving, I find satisfaction in watching my quill move across the page. There is no waste; I use the reverse side of paper that has already been ruined by false starts, ink stains, the wanton mistakes of inattentive copyists. On the finer side of this confession, blotted, you will find Holy Scripture, a nice irony. I have myself served as copyist — and do yet — and I know it is easy to err, even in the service of God.

The unwanted son of a rich merchant and his Dalmatian slave girl, I was taken in by a dyer of wool and consigned as a boy to the Fratelli of Saint Francis where I proved a failure as a monk. Later I failed as a painter and still later as a sculptor. From birth I have been a creature of lust and misadventure and I have continued on in the usual way of men who have come to nothing. Thus I have no claim to your attention. I can make none. I presume to write this only because of my long association with two men: the cattivo Agnolo Mattei who is burning now in hell, God have mercy, and Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, my master, whom the whole world reveres today as Donatello, the greatest sculptor of our time.

I was born — perhaps — in the year 1400, a time of great portents that the world was ending. It rained blood in Orvieto, there was a plague of frogs in Pisa, in Florence fire was seen in the sky for three nights sequent. It is said that in Paris a two-headed baby was born speaking Latin and Greek, but that of course was harmless folly, and in any case the world continued on as wise and foolish as it had always been. No worker in dyes knows the date of his birth, though everyone remembers the turn of one hundred years, and it is certain many unwanted sons were born in 1400 and so perhaps was I.

My mother, Miryam, was a Dalmatian slave in the house of a rich merchant of Prato, and when it was clear that he had made her pregnant, he married her off — with a persuasive dowry of forty florins and a chest of bed linen — to a wool dyer in the Via dei Tintori. Thus was I born, officially legitimate, to Matteo Franchi and his new wife, Miryam, who two days after my birth died of the Black Pest.

The pestis atra, the Black Pest, has marked the most important moments of my life. It was the Black Pest that carried off my mother two days after my birth and it was the Black Pest that released me for a time from the Rule of Father Saint Francis and I used to think — but no longer — that in the end the Black Pest would see me off, swollen and foul smelling, to the silence that never ends. But I cannot repent its ill favors since it was the Black Pest that brought me, hastened on by my sins, to the bottega of my lord Donatello.

* * *

In truth, I was lucky from the start. Begotten on a slave girl by a rich merchant of Prato, I was — for a goodly fee — born in the house of Matteo Franchi and was greedily sucking at my mother's breast when, with no warning, she came all red with fever. Black buboes appeared beneath her arm and in her groin — they took me from her nipple then — and before the third day of my birthing, she lay dead. I should have died with her but I did not. It was the will of God. I was put to nurse — for a small fee — until Matteo, the dyer of wool, was assured he could keep my mother's dowry. After that, in secret, he placed me on the steps of the foundling hospital with a note and a basket of swaddling cloths and left me there until a year later when the merchant inquired about my well-being. By this time Matteo had found a mistress with a liking for children, and since this Spinetta could not bear children of her own, they took me back. Soon after my return she became pregnant — who knows the mysterious workings of God? — and within ten years she had popped out four babies, all of them sons. Matteo married her after the second.

I grew up playing in the colored muck of the Tintori where the dyers boiled their wool in huge round vats, turning the cloth with long paddles, until the indigo and woad made the raw wool blue, and the dyers' hands burned and their arms took on the colors of the dye: indigo here, and in other vats the red of tomatoes and the deeper red of blood, violet and purple, green and onyx.

At seven, I was of an age to help with the dyeing but I was not tall enough or strong enough to control the long heavy paddle used to stir the vats. It was for this reason that the accident occurred. It was a midsummer day and the sun had long been hot on my back and the weight of the paddle moving among the woolen cloths became too much for me. I lost the paddle in the boiling vat. It was the second time this had happened and the dyer, a little drunk and in much anger, cried out upon me and struck me smartly on the head with his closed fist. I fell from the stirring platform and for a time lost sense of who and where I was, and when I returned to myself I had a great ache in my head. My leg was tingling strangely and I flailed about with my arms and for a while I could not speak. It seemed no great matter, but it was the start of the spells that would return now and again through all my life. These spells were from the devil, the dyer said, and he spoke more truly than he knew.

I was the oldest of the dyer's boys when, two years later, the merchant who begat me on my mother took notice of me. It was again a summer day, I remember, heavy with the hot stink of the dyes and the dead stink of the privies, the sun glinting on the river in the distance, and the hammering of the carpenter who was repairing a breached vat. I knew by then that the merchant was my natural father.

"Who is that one?" he asked.

I was standing on the platform at the boiling vat, pushing the heavy load of wool with my long stick as the madder turned the gray cloth red and the boiling water sloshed at my hands and arms.

"Luca," the dyer said. "He is the oldest. And he's strong and fair." He seemed to forget he beat me soundly whenever he was drunk.

"Is he mine?"

"Sir," he said. "He is like a son to us."

"Can he read? Does he know his numbers?"

I looked up from the vat of boiling wool and said loudly, "I would like to read. I would like to know my numbers."

The merchant laughed at my impudence and said, "Send him to the Friars," and almost as an afterthought, he said, "I'll pay." He looked around, as if this were his family and he was pleased with it.

"How many do you have?" he asked.

"Three," Spinetta said. She was heavy with child. "And now a fourth."

"And Luca," the dyer said. He did not mention that I sometimes had spells. "He is our favorite."

But the merchant wasn't interested or deceived. "The Friars," he said again.

* * *

So it was that I became a student in the Order of Friars Minor. The merchant, I discovered later, would have taken me into his own house, but his wife would not tolerate the idea that the son of a slave girl should be brought up as one of her own. But I was well-favored because of my mother, and my rich father looked kindly on me and did for me what he thought best. To atone for his sin he gave over my life to God.

I was sent to the Brothers of Saint Francis where I could learn to read and write and do numbers and where, in time, I could embrace a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Thus freed from all worldly desires, I would atone for his sins and, as it might happen, a great many of my own.


My worldly desires were simple at the start since there is nothing more simple than reading and numbers. I loved reading the sweet, unbelievable stories of Saint Francis's Fioretti and later, with my plodding Latin, I struggled through the Confessiones of Saint Augustine and the Cur Deus Homo? of Saint Anselm of Canterbury and I developed a certain facility with the abacus. The merchant, who was himself a student of painting, paid for me to be instructed in that art, or rather in the art of drawing with a stylus. Study was great joy to me and work in the fields was a necessary evil since it took me from my books. I learned silence and I learned to love it. But it was drawing that I enjoyed most, especially when it was found I had some skill at it. I was praised, reluctantly, by Father Gerardo, our superior. And then at age twelve I discovered purity of mind and body just in time to lose them.

Attenzione! What men and women do in bed was nothing new to me. Anyone who has grown up in a dyer's cottage with two rooms and five children and a neighborhood latrine knows all the mysteries of the body by the time he is six. By nature and inclination dogs copulate and geese copulate and the dyer and his wife copulate, and do it again and again as their mortal essence spurts from them and they reproduce, and in a brief time grow tired of it all. That was no surprise. What surprised me was desire. This desire was a hard ache in the groin: it was relentless, stinging, a fire in my mind and body. By merely taking thought, sometimes with no thought at all, I would go hard, even at prayer, especially at prayer, and I would kneel straight up, my back stiff, my head bowed, and — engorged and erect — I eased myself against the prie-dieu. I firmed my mind with determination not to spill my seed, not in chapel, not at prayer, and mostly I succeeded. But at night on my straw pallet there was no escape. My hands were quick and deft beneath the covers and I spilled my seed with ease but — I was twelve — with a relief that was only momentary. Once more and yet again, and then at last sleep.

Confession was no help. I told my sins — the kind and number and the frequency — and my confessor shook his head and said again and again that I must promise to be pure with the purity of the angels. I must try. Purity is all. I promised and I tried, but angels are pure spirits unencumbered by this thing between my legs that had a passion and a will of its own, and I was not pure spirit.

This was my life, then, from age twelve to fifteen. Prayer and study and work in the fields all day, and my hands on my engorged cazzo in the night. My spells had ceased for a time. No more tingling of the leg, the great pain in my head, the flailing arms. I had grown out of spells and into private sin.

Father Gerardo, our superior, decided I should spend more time drawing. It would occupy my mind, he said, and my hands as well, and thus keep me from sin. This was not a matter of my ability. It was a matter of obedience. And who could tell? Perhaps one day I would paint, he said. Perhaps one day I would study with a master painter and thus bring great credit to our friary in Prato. And so I was assigned to make two murals in the refectory in imitation of those great paintings by Niccolò Gerini in the church of San Piero Forelli. The first was to be his pietà — that is, our Lord risen from the tomb with our Lady beside him — and the second, on the opposite wall, Saint Francis with the stigmata. In preparation I sketched a copy of the pietà on an oaken panel in a one-to- twenty proportion — a simple mathematical equation — and was surprised that my little copy actually resembled the original. Father Gerardo was more surprised than I and said he had great hopes for the painting and great hopes for my hands. Then I sketched the pietà in charcoal on the refectory wall, but after it was well advanced and I had painted in the faces and the hands, Father Gerardo assigned the other postulants to complete the work. He feared lest I commit the sin of pride in considering the painting my own. And so too I proceeded with the mural of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, except that crouching at Saint Francis's feet where Niccolò Gerini had painted in his patron, I sketched a likeness of the merchant who begat me and turned me over to the Friars. In this way no matter how many postulants completed it, I had made the painting my own. When the merchant saw the mural he recognized himself at once and, flattered, said, "The boy has gifts. Send him to Arrigo di Niccolò. He will teach him much." He added, knowing the friars, "I'll pay." Father Gerardo nodded and smiled but I was not sent to study with Arrigo — causa superbiae again — lest I become proud. It was God's will.

By the end of my postulancy year the murals were done — higgledy-piggledy in finish and design — and though I had escaped the sin of pride, I remained unchaste. Despite my prayers, despite fasting and nightly chastisement with the cord and the catena, I continued to commit the lonely sin. I told our Father Gerardo I had failed, that I was not meant to be a Brother of Saint Francis. But Father had boundless hope for human nature and great joy in prayer and he said that with God's help and the help of the Virgin Mother I would change and become chaste, because this was God's will and perhaps his mysterious way of keeping me humble.

In this way I became a novice in the Order of Friars Minor.

As novices we lived the true life of the friar. We prayed. We meditated on poverty and chastity and obedience. We learned the rule of Father Saint Francis, and what it means to be a servant of the poor. Chastity and obedience we took for granted, but poverty was the essence of our lives. When it was my turn, I begged from house to house — bread or a coin or whatever charity was offered — for Francis believed that the greatest poverty is to beg for one's bread. "Poverty is having nothing and desiring nothing," he liked to say. "Thus we enjoy all things in the freedom of not possessing them." This was a paradox I found hard to understand at the time and impossible to understand now that I am a prisoner of the Fratelli. But it was all I knew. And I knew it was God's will.

At the end of that year, though still unchaste, I was admitted as a Brother to the Order of Friars Minor, promising for the next three years to live as a monk who is pledged to God by temporary vows until he is admitted to solemn vows: that is, I was offered but not yet accepted.


As the youngest of the new Brothers I was sent on trial to care for the aged and dying at our tiny mission house on the river. The Brothers of Saint Francis always dwell among the poor — they are our mission and our reason for being — and the poor live chock-a-block in mean and dirty streets where the gutter is very often the privy and where grueling labor wears down the body and the soul. Our mission house stood in the poorest section of Prato, near the fulling mill on the Bisenzio River. It was a small house for a small group of Brethren, seven old and dying monks, with myself and Brother Isaac to minister to them. Brother Isaac was nearly eighty. In his late years he had suffered flashes in his brain and then had lost much of his speech, but he continued to cook well and in any case our food was simple. He prepared the meals and I served them. Father Alfonso, our priest, though he was one of the dying seven, still managed to say Mass and hear confessions and to lead the morning prayers.

It was my office to look after the Brothers. I dressed the ones who could still get out of bed, I fed them and washed them and helped them to the privy. Some were not able to get up, and for them I brought the basin and emptied it each morning and night. The old are a race unto themselves. Their bowels are second only to God and the privy second only to chapel. Indeed, they would sooner miss the chapel than the privy. Our privy was a model of good order, always clean, always efficient. It was built on an ell extending just beyond the riverbank so that, after the office of Prime and before the office of Terce, the Brethren shat into a branch of the gently flowing river. It is true that further downstream the dyers washed their wool but by that time the shit had dissipated and no offense was offered. This green river, the very life of the city, has always been hard used. Once the Brethren were settled for the morning, it was my task to go to market for the fish and game. I bargained with the peasant women over baskets of leeks and beans, with fishmongers for tench or carp or eels, with farmers for cheese and milk and eggs. I bought bread from the baker and meat pies when he had them and, on feast days, a cooked roast pig with a Mary apple in its mouth. Each afternoon I begged for alms. These tasks, plus obligatory prayer, made up my day and, to some extent, controlled my thoughts and desires. But at night, on my cot, I remained Fratello Luca of the busy hands.

Prato is not like Florence. The first business of Florence is money and, after that, rich cloth and fine sculpture, whereas the sole business of Prato is wool. Prato is a merchant city of little houses with foul alleys between them and the noise and smells of a slum ghetto, with not enough air and sunlight and too much of the muck that comes from living close and working hard. There are canals with fulling mills and dyeing sheds leaning into them and the stench of the dyes and sulfur and alum, but there are gardens everywhere and in spring they perfumed the air. The streets are often too narrow for a cart to make its way, and it is easier to get to market on foot than in a cart, which was well for me since our little mission house possessed no cart and no horse or donkey to pull it.

Cutting down back alleys and over canals, I had found a shortcut to market that took me through the tiny campos of the decaying Gualdimare quarter directly to the market square. In fact, that is not quite true. This route was not so quick but it was more pleasant since it followed the river where the children played along the banks, and took me past a world of kitchen gardens and backyard privies, and through the Camposino San Paolo where twice — my heart racing at the sight of her — I had seen the whore, Maria Sabina, drawing water at the well. The trip to market was my favorite duty.

It was May, a hot morning after a long spell of rain, and the air smelled freshly of green things growing, of primrose, lavender, tansy, and mint. Telling my beads, my mind wandering, I had passed the river and the kitchen gardens and was crossing through the Camposino San Paolo — not everything that happens is the will of God — when I heard a voice and stopped to listen.


Excerpted from The Medici Boy by John L'Heureux. Copyright © 2013 John L'Heureux. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

David Henry Hwang
A novel bursting with love -- collegial, artistic and erotic. John L'Heureux brings to life the bliss and treachery of the Italian Renaissance through prose as passionate as his characters. Deeply enjoyable, THE MEDICI BOY soars like an operatic aria, before breaking our hearts. - David Henry Hwang, Toby and Obie award winning playwright, of M. Butterfly, FOB, The Dance and The Railroad
Kathryn Harrison
Lust, envy, greed. Pride. Wrath. Set John L'Heureux loose in 15th-century Florence; give him Donatello, Cosimo de Medici, a royal flush of deadly sins, and a boy too handsome for his own good, and watch a master at work, and at play. There is no time and no place and no human transaction that L'Heureux can't plunder to assemble the kind of novel his fans expect, and his fans-to-be have never before encountered. Luminous, intelligent, funny, shocking, and, yes: revelatory. - Kathryn Harrison, New York Times Bestselling Author, ENVY, THE SEAL WIFE, THE BINDING CHAIR
From the Publisher
“A writer who picks up his readers by the scruff of the neck and won’t let go.”
Chicago Tribune

“A deeply ambitious novelist, one who isn’t afraid of dealing with dark themes and what it means to be fully human, especially in the frightening and ecstatic world we create behind the darkened bedroom walls.”
New York Times Book Review

“L’Heureux’s efforts to weave myth., extremity, and a religious note into [various] settings are high risk. The result is powerful and original.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

Meet the Author

Award-winning poet, novelist, and short story writer, John L'Heureux has taught at Georgetown University, Tufts, Harvard, and for over 35 years in the English Department of Stanford University where he was Lane Professor of Humanities. There he received the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching and again in 1998.

A prolific writer, L'Heureux has written more than twenty books of fiction, short fiction and poetry. His works have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Harper's, The New Yorker, and have been included in dozens of anthologies including Best American Stories and Prize Stories: the O. Henry Awards.

John L'Heureux has twice received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2006 he was awarded a Guggenheim Grant to do research for The Medici Boy, his new novel.

Brief Biography

Stanford, California
Date of Birth:
October 26, 1934
Place of Birth:
South Hadley, Massachusetts
Graduate degrees in philosophy and English from Boston College and Harvard University

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The Medici Boy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
SallyJS More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a very timely book - considering it was set in the 15th century.  I didn't want to like it - considering the darkness of the subject matter; but it seems to be an historically accurate (not being an historian) and well researched reflection of the time.  The characters were very human, with all our foibles; in a sense, it makes our current intolerance of anyone not 'like us' to appear not as extreme.  But in another, it also demonstrates our lack of tolerance to have not progressed as far as one could hope in 500 years...This is not typically the type of story I would pick up for relaxation, as the subject is very dark, but it was so well written I couldn't stop reading, desiring to find out what happens next.  
gerryburnie More than 1 year ago
Love, lust, jealousy, murder, power and intrigue — Just the way a 15th century novel should read. Four and on-half stars When I think of 15th century Italy and the Medicis, I think of people dressed in cloaks, skulking about on nefarious errands, as well as Roman-nosed clergy and medieval nobility indulging themselves on sumptuous living, intrigue and lust. Happily, John L’Heureux captures all this in his latest book, Medici Boy [Astor + Blue Editions, LLC.; 1 edition, April 7, 2014]. It is told from the point of view of Luca Mettei, Donato Donatello’s fictional assistant. Most everyone will recognize that Donatello (c. 1386 – December 13, 1466) was the Florentine sculptor who created, among other masterpieces, the first free-standing nude sculpture since the Classical Greek era—the beautiful and enigmatic David and Goliath. What makes the story intriguing is that L’Heureux has went behind the bronze to give it a personality; that of the radiantly beautiful and nymph-like model, Agnolo. Indeed, when you compare L’Heureux’s creation to the perceived personality of the statue, the similarity is remarkable. There is the same Narcissistic and self-centred beauty that could very well attract the unwary to their doom, and in this case, Agnolo himself.. Other notable characters add a measure of intrigue, as well. For example, Cosimo de Medici, the inspiration for Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, was banker to the Vatican, enormously wealthy, a political manipulator extraordinaire, and patron of the arts. It was he who commissioned Donatello’s David for his garden. Beside all this cloak-and-dagger intrigue, honour and loyalty also exist—as in Mattei’s loyalty to his master, Donatello. In this story Mattei is heterosexual, but in an age where the lines were sometimes blurred, on can image an affectionate love (at least) between the two.d, it has all the ingredients of a Florentine caper, i.e. love, lust, jealousy, murder, power and intrigue. 
WintersRead More than 1 year ago
The Medici Boy was a conflicting read for me. There is a very clear mastery in the book. Firstly, of first-person writing, the use of which was well justified, I found. L'Heureux wrote more showing than telling. He also mastered the feel of Renaissance Florence, and Donatello's workshop. Many writers could learn from the simple, stripped down focus and immersion he brings to the reader. As for the historical aspect, everything is kept in accurate reference, and aligns very well with the time period and sequence of events. But it is this accuracy that brings up the controversy. Sodomy frequented the streets of Italy, despite being a severe crime. Near the start of the book, graphic detail becomes overbearing and unnecessary, in my opinion, and is brought up too often later on as well. Yes, this book concerns the forbidden, but there were still unnecessary sequences that put me off. The other part of the historical accuracy concerned the artwork of Donatello, his processes of creating it, and the political patronage who supported it: Cosimo de' Medici. This is the part I enjoyed the most; I was able to see the Italian Renaissance workshop beauty and atmosphere. I loved how this was a simple story about a simple, yet privileged man. There were no world-altering events, drastic secrets revealed, or wildest dreams realized. It was the life and story of a man who had the privilege of knowing Donatello, and what he did with it. One aspect that readers have reported having trouble with is associating with the characters, Luca especially. I, on the other hand, think that the characters were well illustrated, but Luca was illustrated through the others. If you remember, this is a recounting of events by Luca himself. He wouldn't write excessively about himself, being from that era. Like many other real authors, his writings would reveal himself through others he wrote about. I respect L'Heureux for taking advantage of this. There were a few times, though, where current novel style showed through, from Luca's hinting at future events. This detracted from the atmosphere of the time period, as I doubt this would be done in such a memoir as often as he did it. In conclusion, I don't recommend this to anyone uncomfortable with the topic of sodomy, as it plays a large part in this novel, as it did historically. But, if you can stomach this, the era immersion is wonderful, and so are the characters. *This book was provided free by the publisher and Blue Dot Literary. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.*
Griperang72 More than 1 year ago
This book appealed to me because it was set in historical Italy. The author did a great job on his historical research so much so that I felt as if I was in Renaissance Italy. I also found the way he wrote about the characters was very good to me. The descriptions of Donatello's works was just amazing and very detailed. The more I read this book the more I wanted to read and learn more about Dontallo and the Medici family. I recommend this book to fans of historical books, books about Italy and plain ole' fiction lovers. I look forward to more book by this author. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 on my blog and here.  The book will be donated to my university library.]
avalonpriestess More than 1 year ago
To begin, I was given a copy of this book for review.  I was neither asked,nor encouraged to write a positive review. Now, with housekeeping out of the way,  I truly enjoyed this novel. The Renaissance period is amazing..and this book is no exception. We see the inner workings of the workshop of the great Donatello, through the eyes of Luca Matteo. Luca is a young man who, himself, is fascinated by the great Donatello. He arrives at the workshop of the master via a convoluted path.  We see his character grow and change throughout the novel.  We see and feel his love, anger, feelings of betrayal and ultimately his horrific act of violence to protect the master Donatello. We learn about the fine artisanship that occurs in the master's workshop.  We meet several high placed renaissance individuals, including Cosimo de Medici and his arch enemy, the Albizzi's.  We become embroiled in the political mess that was Renaissance Italy. Mostly, this is a sad story about forbidden love.   We watch as Donatello creates his DAVID statue, while he himself, the mighty Goliath of this time is being brought to his knees by his love for the model of David. I found myself feeling pity for the great master, as well as for Luca, the teller of the story.   While reading, I kept thinking Donatello IS the Medici Boy, but as I finished the novel, I realized the true identity of THE MEDICI BOY.   Heartbreaking, thought provoking, gut wrenching.  This novel will affect you one way or another. I give this book 5/5 stars and encourage anyone interested in art, or Renaissance Florence to read this well written book.  You will not be disappointed.  But...if you can't tolerate gore, skip over the part about the cat...