Mark Lamster on Master of Shadows
Peter Paul Rubens gives us a lot to think about in his canvasses of rushing color, action, and puckered flesh, so it’s not surprising that his work as a diplomat and spy has been neglected. One of my goals in writing Master of Shadows was to fill that gap in the record. Here, after all, is an actual Old Master using actual secret codes, dodging assassination, plotting the overthrow of foreign governments, and secretly negotiating for world peace.
Certainly, a biographer could not ask for a more compelling subject. Rubens was a charismatic man of extraordinary learning, fluent in six languages, who made a fortune from his art. He never fit the paradigm of the artist as a self-destructive figure at odds with convention. More than one of his contemporaries actually thought his skill as a statesman surpassed his unmatched talent before an easel.
Though it is set four centuries ago, I believe readers will find the Rubens story deeply resonant with contemporary experience. Rubens was a moderate man in a dogmatic time, a pragmatist who spent much of his life working to end a seemingly intractable conflict driven by ideologues. In writing the book, I was routinely astonished by the eerie parallels between his time and our own. The political battles he fought naturally inform his paintings, many of which serve as meditations on the costs and ravages of war. In illuminating this history, I hope Master of Shadows will help modern audiences recapture some of the urgency and grandeur of his work--and his riveting life. --Mark Lamster
(Photo © Blip Studio)
"A Fascinating study."
—The Telegraph (A Book of the Year)
"Mark Lamster is a brave writer....His affection for his subject is so complete—and completely convincing—his style is so gracefully unpretentious and his research is so thorough that Master of Shadows manages to be engaging, instructive and thought-provoking, all at once."
—The Los Angeles Times
"A different kind of artist's biography....Gripping reading."
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Highbrow and Brilliant
—New York Magazine Approval Matrix
"An exceptional book."
A Daily Beast "Hot Read"
Selected as an Indie Next Notable Book for November 2009
"Rubens’s story surprises and dazzles."
“In elegant brushstrokes, and using as his subject the painter/diplomat Rubens, Mark Lamster gives us here a vivid portrait of 17th century Europe and the political intrigue that led to the modern world.”
—Russell Shorto, bestselling author of The Island at the Center of the World
"Mark Lamster looks beyond Rubens's talent for era-defining sensual nudes and delves into his little-known career as a diplomat and spy. The result is an exhilarating portrait of an age as dramatic and richly toned as one of Rubens's gigantic canvases."
—Ross King, bestselling author of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
"This adroitly crafted biography of Rubens brings to life an artist so busy wheeling and dealing with the crowned heads of Europe that it's amazing he found the time to put brush to canvas. Lamster's account engages the student of history as much as it opens the eyes of those who love Rubens's art."
—Timothy Brook, author of Vermeer's Hat
"Master of Shadows is a fascinating account, as lively as it is informed. This utterly intriguing narrative has the knowledge and verve that infuse Rubens's brushstrokes; Lamster writes with the panache and enthusiastic engagement, as well as the capability, warranted by his marvelous subject.”
—Nicholas Fox Weber, author of Le Corbusier and The Bauhaus Group
“Imagine that Pablo Picasso, in addition to painting the most famous masterpieces of the 20th century, had also devoted decades of his life to secret diplomacy aimed at preventing another world war. That is exactly what Peter Paul Rubens, the most revered painter of his era, did in 17th-century Europe. Mark Lamster tells this little-known story with a combination of brio and historical erudition bound to appeal to anyone who cares about beauty, passion, war and peace. I couldn't put it down.”
—Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of The Age of American Unreason
“Art, war, diplomatic intrigue, secret spy missions-all rendered with the erudition of a scholar and the deft touch of a gifted writer. This is exactly what popular history should be. I was utterly transfixed by this book.”
—Jonathan Mahler, bestselling author of The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
“Piercing the darkened, secret world of agents, operatives, and diplomats is a difficult task at the best of times-and in Rubens's case, one thought impossible-but Mark Lamster brilliantly succeeds at shedding light on this most enigmatic, and aptly dubbed, Master of Shadows.”
—Alexander Rose, author of Washington's Spies
"Mark Lamster, a master of vivid writing, provides a highly readable account of the national rivalries and endemic warfare that fostered secret diplomacy in seventeenth-century Europe. Master of Shadows is a page-turner not to be missed.”
—Lita-Rose Betcherman, author of Court Lady and Country Wife
“Rubens's story surprises and dazzles.”