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Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens    by Mark Lamster Amazon.com order for
Master of Shadows
by Mark Lamster
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Anchor, 2010 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Revered by monarchs and most of his peers, Peter Paul Rubens was perhaps the most successful artist of the seventeenth century. His work, especially the personal portraits and awe inspiring altarpieces, were the talk of Western Europe, which gave him unrivaled access to the royal courts of all the major powers.

Unbeknownst to many of those who praised his masterpieces, the painter was also actively engaged in clandestine diplomacy on behalf of some of the continent's major rulers. Making good use of his savvy negotiating skills and amiable personality, these leaders used Rubens to conduct covert peace-seeking missions during a time of continual unrest.

'Painting gave Rubens the perfect cover for clandestine work; he could appear at any foreign court and always use his art to allay suspicion of ulterior motives,' explains Mark Lamster. 'What prompted Rubens' engagement in politics was the condition of his native Flanders, a land beset by sectarian violence and occupied by a negligent foreign empire, Spain, to which he owed his allegiance.'

In this fascinating story of one man's plotting, politicking and painting, the reader discovers there was much more to this iconic artist. Lamster doesn't ignore Rubens' artistic life and his art, but the focus here is that little known diplomatic facet of the man's life that has been largely ignored.

Lamster writes, 'Rubens was hardly na´ve about the commercial, religious, and political forces pulling against the fragile stability of the international community ... But he also knew that international bonds represented an opportunity for a pragmatic diplomat; relationships could be leveraged and resources deployed to spread peace across an entire continent united by mutual interest.'

Although he wasn't always successful, this clever and resourceful man didn't mind stepping out of one role, that of a renowned painter, to assume another, far less transparent position.

Peter Paul Rubens was unable to accomplish his ultimate diplomatic goal, a reconciliation of Spain and the Dutch provinces and with it peace in the Low Countries. But he did have many successes, including the negotiation of an important treaty between Spain and England.

As you'll discover when reading this unusual biography, Peter Paul Rubens was the Master of Shadows in more than one way. Although he will always be remembered for his art, there's much more to this man than meets the eye!

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