Customer Reviews: Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens
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on November 13, 2009
If I described this book as a detailed biography of the great Baroque painter, you might wonder whether it could sustain your interest for a book-length read. But then you might miss this highly entertaining and skillfully written book---not only a master painter, serious scholar, and astute businessman, Rubens was also a diplomat and spy who traveled in the upper echelons of European society and royalty. Against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition, the Eighty Years' War, and other historical events filled with intrigue, war, big personalities, and, yes, sex, the author tells a great tale of an extraordinary man in extraordinary times. Deftly written with great humor and care, Master of Shadows is a hard-to-put-down page-turner once you start. If only all "art history" was this much fun; hopefully Lamster will move on to other artists, assuming their stories are as fascinating as this.
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on September 5, 2010
While most everyone has heard the term 'Rubenesque' few people are directly familiar with Rubens work. As the author points out, he has no iconographic 'mona lisa' or other defining work. Fewer still are familiar with this diplomatic career.
That is the focus of Lamster's book.
He does a job creating an overview of the complex geopolitical picture of Europe -- the stage for Ruben's diplomatic drama. . despite packing in a lot of names, places, treaties, the narrative flows nicely - not an easy task for a writer! This is a nice, concise story of Rubens involvement in negotiations and diplomatic missions and how it naturally flowered out of his artistic career.
Side note: The books is what it says it is - it is NOT a biography that focuses on his artistic career-- so please no comments about 'i wish he had talked more about his painting' - on that note what he does mention about his artistic career and paintings is interesting and helps the story move along.

I am knocking off one star for the last chapter a sermonizing, politically correct 'epilogue'. tiresome.
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on April 3, 2016
In this book Mark Lamster talks about the machinations, secret diplomacy, arrangements and connections of the painter Peter Paul Rubens. His was a whirlwind career, playing out in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Mantua, London and everywhere in between in the service of the Spanish Habsburgs; most often under cover of a painting commission. As a painter he "picture[d] the most powerful men and women of his day, and the institutions they controlled, not necessarily as they were, but as they wished to be seen." Lamster brings Rubens to life - :"tall and physically attractive", with friends and connections everywhere. - yet, I was left not really knowing much more of Rubens than when I started this book. Sometimes I found myself wondering where the many quotes really came from - maybe it was a Kindle edition - but there really were no references. Some were given in the appendix, but not really enough to follow up.
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on December 16, 2009
Lamster is a great story teller. Staying true to the historical facts he managed to get me hooked from the first pages. Not an easy task considering the convoluted political situation at the time of Peter Paul Rubens. Lamter Master of Words.
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on July 23, 2011
Presumably, scholarly readers will find little here to stimulate their interest; the general reader will find this footnote to art and diplomatic history, enlightening and entertaining.
The author devotes sufficient space to the political-military conflicts of the various monarchies influential in the fate of the part of the Netherlands to allow us to understand the rationale for Rubens diplomatic endeavors. He provides sufficient art historical knowledge of Rubens Art to allow us to understand the reputation which gave him access to the leading Western European Courts which welcomed him even when his goals were understood by them to be contrary to their own.
Shining above the particulars of Art and Diplomacy is the character of a man who, equal to any, typified the values of wise commitment to a Europe, free of the Religious, Political,Economic and Status hostilities which impeded creation of conditions for greater wealth and well-being for all.
Well-written and a good story. Easily accessible to the average reader.
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on June 8, 2012
I am an artist in oils and have read nearly all there is written on P.P. Rubens. I have seen and copied many of his works and studied his techniques and his methods.

In all the study and information there was always the mention of his diplomatic capabilities and endeavors. Yet, with the exception of Schama's "Rembrant's Eyes" , I have never read anything that so concisely and "readably" (I know not a word) delves into his activities with and integration of the times and commissions of those events. This was truly surprising for me, I almost could not put it down.

It is rare to get true "Art History" that blends life with craft mixed with emotion and symbology, this work is not that but a wonderful rounding of the remarkable actions of a man striving to believe in the possible. For me, it enhanced the paintings that much further............ an act that I thought was no longer possible. Thus it is a true gift.

It is true that if one knows the histories and actions and paintings already that the read is probably not tedious (if it is at all, as others have said).

I would want the author Mr Lamster to know that his work has actually given me further inspiration as an artist and a person. Ruben's is/was for lack of a better phrase a "Renaissance Man" of the first order, capable of being Husband, Father, CEO, Artist, Shopkeeper, Diplomat, Wordsmith, Mediator, Peacekeeper, Philanthropist, et all. Someone known yet not understood in recent centuries and so much more that an "esque".

Thank you for the work and toil it must have been to complete. It is rare indeed for me to review anything. This is deserving of high praise.
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on May 27, 2013
A well written, well paced, thoughtful book. The author isn't an intellect on the same order as Rubens' talent, but that can't really be expected. In this case it isn't all that desired...Master of Shadows is more of a reportage.

And a really good reportage it is, of an age when artists led interesting lives. If you're looking to spend some afternoons in an escapist fantasy that has some anchors in art history, this is the read for you.
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on January 26, 2010
The book weaved a fascinating and yet convincing net to cover Rubens's whole life, especially his not-so-well-known diplomatic life.
It certainly is with great pleasure to immerse oneself in art and history throughout the book, and pay tribute to the Master who possessed so many virtues, which is a rare in modern world.
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on May 1, 2011
This book is full of details and if you are hungry for that kind of information divorced from any compelling storyline this is the book for you. I struggled to get through the whole thing even though the basic subject matter was of interest to me. The facts just didn't effectively integrate with storytelling. It was like assigned reading, not pleasure reading.
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on September 28, 2010
LOVED this book. What surprised me the most is... how funny it is--perhaps not surprising coming from a guy who seems to hold some kind of world record for complaints uttered in a minute. Lamster does an amazing job not just conjuring Rubens the the spy--a feat in itself--but his world in all of its quirky detail. The characters, and particularly the side characters, such as the guy whose job it is to wash down Rubens's horses, are what drew me in. This is a book you won't be able to put down.
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