Rupert Thomson

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Thomson, Rupert

Last Updated: Dec-02-2013
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


In 1701, the wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo is invited to the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. His talent in is portraying the human form in various states of decay – anatomically correct, each figure set in a box recreating scenarios, as chilling memento mori.

Zumbo is well received in Florence and befriends anatomists and physicians at the local hospital Santa Maria Nuova. But he cannot fathom why he has been invited until he meets the Grand Duke himself. Cosimo confesses the misery of his marriage to the much younger Frenchwoman, Marguerite Louise. She has left him, yet he loves her still. He asks Zumbo to fashion a wax woman for him—but the artist must be careful because Florence—under Cosimo’s own pious orders – is becoming increasingly intolerant of sexual deviation of any sort. Spies are everywhere.

Zumbo is given the corpse of a young woman, mysteriously drowned, and makes a cast of her body. Then he finds a way to make the dubious project “acceptable” by concealing a fetus inside her removable but flat belly.

Meanwhile, Zumbo spies a beautiful woman in an apothecary shop – and spends a long time searching for her. Her name is Faustina, and eventually they begin an affair, which is deemed unacceptable. They must flee from a murderous Dominican priest who plans to torture and kill them both.

Without giving too much away, the ending is poignant.

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