My vacation reading: Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens by Mark Lamster.
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.
Art history page-turner? Yep.
In addition to being a painter of some repute, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat:
In Master of Shadows, Mark Lamster tells the story of Rubens’s life and brilliantly re-creates the culture, religious conflicts, and political intrigues of his time. Commissions to paint military and political leaders drew Rubens from his Antwerp home to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome. The Spanish crown, recognizing the value of his easy access to figures of power, enlisted him into diplomatic service. His uncommon intelligence, preternatural charm, and ability to navigate through ever-shifting political winds allowed him to negotiate a long-sought peace treaty between England and Spain even as Europe’s shrewdest statesmen plotted against him.
and a graphic designer.
Moretus was Rubens’s most frequent design client. To save his friend money, Rubens generally did his work for Plantin on holidays, so he would not have to charge Moretus his rather exorbitant day rate (Rubens was notorious for his high prices), and even then he agreed to be paid in books.