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The Painter as a Spy

Posted By Alex Belth On October 21, 2009 @ 3:48 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled



Mark Lamster’s second book was released this week. It is called Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens [1].  Dig this essay from the Wall Street Journal: [2]

Today, Peter Paul Rubens is best remembered as the Old Master with a penchant for fleshy, pink nudes and baroque grandiosity. These perceptions suggest a man of unchecked libertinism, but Rubens was in fact a man of controlled appetites, with a modest disposition and a reputation for tact and discretion. Almost inevitably, given his proximity to monarchs and statesmen across Europe, he was conscripted into political service as a covert diplomat and spy; his artistic work could always provide cover for his clandestine activities.

Because we think of Rubens primarily as an artist, and because the political affairs of the 17th century are so remote, Rubens’s diplomatic career is neglected when it is not altogether forgotten. But a review of Rubens’s correspondence, along with other archival sources, suggests he played a central and active role in European statecraft. Indeed, many of his contemporaries considered him as skilled a diplomat as he was an artist, and he was then almost universally revered as a painter without rival.

Rubens worked primarily as an operative for the Spanish crown, which was engaged in a prolonged war with the nascent Dutch republic, an intractable conflict that had engulfed all of Europe’s powers and that extended fully around the globe. Rubens believed he could resolve this perpetual war, and he devoted several years of his life to this effort, risking all that he had achieved. His plan was triangular: he would arrange for a peace between Spain and England, with the expectation that England would then force its Dutch ally to compromise with Spain. It was a savvy bit of strategic thinking, but it would not work unless Rubens could convince England and Spain, traditional enemies, to come to terms.

Mark, known around these parts as the co-founder of YFSF [3], is nothing if not versatile and wildly talented.


I received my copy of the book this morning and it is stunningly handsome. Once the baseball season is over it’s at the top of my reading list. Congrats to Mark on the publication of what looks to be a terrific book. What an accomplishment, man. We’re proud to know him, count him as a friend, and wish him nothing but success.

Maybe one day he’ll post a picture of the 1975 Yankees bumper sticker he once showed me.

Article printed from Bronx Banter: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com

URL to article: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/2009/10/21/the-painter-as-a-spy/

URLs in this post:

[1] Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens: http://blog.marklamster.com/?page_id=770

[2] this essay from the Wall Street Journal:: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703298004574459753201012282.html

[3] the co-founder of YFSF: http://yanksfansoxfan.typepad.com/

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