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Although his popularity is eclipsed by Rembrandt today, Peter Paul Rubens was revered by his contemporaries as the greatest painter of his era, if not of all history. His undeniable artistic genius, bolstered by a modest disposition and a reputation as a man of tact and discretion, made him a favorite among monarchs and political leaders across Europe—and gave him the perfect cover for the clandestine activities that shaped the landscape ...
Although his popularity is eclipsed by Rembrandt today, Peter Paul Rubens was revered by his contemporaries as the greatest painter of his era, if not of all history. His undeniable artistic genius, bolstered by a modest disposition and a reputation as a man of tact and discretion, made him a favorite among monarchs and political leaders across Europe—and gave him the perfect cover for the clandestine activities that shaped the landscape of seventeenth-century politics.
In Master of Shadows, Mark Lamster brilliantly recreates the culture, religious conflicts, and political intrigues of Rubens’s time, following the painter from Antwerp to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome and providing an insightful exploration of Rubens’s art as well as the private passions that influenced it.
“Engaging, instructive and thought-provoking, all at once. . . . 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.” —The Los Angeles Times
“A different kind of artist’s biography. . . . Gripping reading.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Highbrow and brilliant.” —New York magazine
“An illuminating look at a side of the great painter usually kept in the shadows.” —The Daily Beast
“An exhilarating portrait of an age as dramatic and richly toned as one of Rubens’s gigantic canvases.” —Ross King, author of Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling
“Imagine that Pablo Picasso, in addition to painting the most famous masterpieces of the twentieth 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 seventeenth-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, author, The Age of American Unreason
“In elegant brushstrokes … Mark Lamster gives us here a vivid portrait of 17th century Europe and the political intrigue that led to the modern world.” —Russell Shorto, author, The Island at the Center of the World
“A fascinating study.” —The Telegraph (London)
“When people think of Peter Paul Rubens . . . they probably conjure up images of rosy-cheeked, buxom women, proud courtiers, and grand historical scenes. . . . Mark Lamster does nothing to dispel that familiar impression but a great deal to modify it.” —The Providence Journal
“Rubens’s story surprises and dazzles.” —Kirkus
“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, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World
“An exceptional book.” —Library Journal
“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, Le Corbusier: A Life
“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, author, 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, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring
“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, Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England
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 though 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.
Posted May 1, 2011
No text was provided for this review.