The Shadow Master—Live on Halloween Eve


I’ll be discussing the original Shadow Master, Peter Paul Rubens, this Halloween evening on the John Batchelor Show. As you can see above, the man could do gruesome like few others, though he was in general a peaceable sort. Tune in to 770 WABC-AM at 11:00PM to catch the spooky proceedings. (World Series fans: do yourselves a favor and mute Buck/McCarver’s World Series commentary.)

Update: Listen to the interview here.

Half King Reading


Many thanks to all who came out to my son-et-lumiere extravaganza last night at the Half King in New York. I trust everyone enjoyed the show and am happy to report that the good folks at Mobile Libris sold out of books. If anyone missed their chance at a copy, books are available at a store near you, or at your favorite online retailer. If you’ve already read the book, please feel free to write a review for Amazon.

Rubens & Obama: Birds of a Feather


What can our current Nobel-winning diplomat-president learn from the career of Peter Paul Rubens? More than you might think, actually. Over the last four centuries, the precepts of good diplomacy haven’t changed all that much. I have a new piece up on the Huffington Post, “Lessons for the President on the Art of Diplomacy.” A sample:

The frequency and suddenness with which political fortune could reverse itself, he thought, demanded constant vigilance and engagement. Certainly, the idea that one should not negotiate with one’s enemies would have been anathema to Rubens; the maintenance of such contacts was one of the essential principles of diplomatic practice at the time. Cardinal Richelieu, the French statesman who was one of Rubens’s most persistent adversaries, devoted an entire chapter of his influential Testament Politique to the utility of continuous negotiations. “I may venture to say boldly,” he wrote, “that to negotiate without ceasing, openly or secretly, in all places…is what is absolutely necessary for the good and welfare of States.

I should note that I also have a piece up now on yet another of Rubens’s other careers (he had so many it’s hard to keep track). You will find “Peter Paul Rubens: Book Designer” over on Design Observer, which has been one of my absolute favorite spots on the Web since it’s inception. So I’m very proud to see my writing there in the main column, and should add that I will be contributing more to the Places department in the future.

Master of Shadows: Reception


It was a great honor last night to celebrate publication of Master of Shadows with a small gathering at the residence of the Belgian Consul General in New York, Ambassador Herman Portocarero. The ambassador is a distinguished author in his own right, so it was especially appropriate to be there speaking about another artist-diplomat. I cannot thank him and his lovely wife Myriam enough for their generosity, nor can words adequately describe my debt to Dan Benjoseph and especially Lilliane Opsomer of FlandersHouse, for so much support. As I noted, it was just the kind of event Rubens enjoyed in his own day, as you can see in the image above, a painting by William van Haecht of an Antwerp party with Rubens in attendance (at bottom left.)

A few pictures after the jump:
Continue reading Master of Shadows: Reception

Master of Shadows—In Stores Now—New York Event


After so many years of working and waiting, the day has finally arrived: “Master of Shadows” has been released into the world, and is available at a bookstore near you. Please join me in celebrating publication of the book with a reading and beers next Monday night (Oct. 26) at the Half King, 505 West 23rd Street (off 10th Ave.) in Manhattan. Doors open at 7:00, and the event is free.

In other news, the Daily Beast has named the book a “Hot Read” for the week. Thank you Daily Beast!

There’s also a really generous review up at Bookotron—they call the book “gripping and intense.” A bit more:

“Lamster takes the reader on a journey through secret treaties, gorgeous art and secret negotiations conducted by the artist. It’s an incredibly involving portrait of a man as complicated as the world around him, a man who helped crate that complicated world. Inner and outer beauties collide. Lamster’s a fine writer who knows how to take the reader through history that we think we understand, only to offer a very fresh perspective. The prose is transparent, the better to see the people, the places and the events portrayed. Nan A. Talese has included a generous number of color plates in the book to compliment the excellent story. Here’s a proto-steampunk thriller about a real artist who happened to be a spy and a diplomat, in a lovely package. Reality seems to overtake fantasy with an ease that is often nearly as breathtaking as the work of Rubens.”

The Art of Diplomacy


It’s a rather satisfying bit of parallelism that the excerpt of my book on the political career of Peter Paul Rubens appears in the Wall Street Journal on the same day that Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is the paper’s lead story. As I believe the piece in the Journal demonstrates, Rubens was a pragmatic, moderate man whose success as a diplomat was predicated on a combination of the high esteem in which he was held internationally and by his own great intelligence. Whatever one thinks about the timing of the Nobel, or of Obama generally, it’s hard to deny he shares these characteristics with Rubens. But I’d like to think the artist can serve as a fine model for the president, or any diplomat practicing today. He was a serious and dedicated public servant, a master of what we now call “realpolitiks.” His world, like ours, was faced with intractable conflicts, and he was tireless in his efforts to resolve them. The Low Countries, then, was a land divided by sectarian violence, and his own Flemish homeland was ruled by a grossly negligent foreign occupier. (In the 16th century, Antwerp was almost a proto-Baghdad, with a full-scale Green Zone avant le lettre.) Rubens was no revolutionary. He worked within the power structures of his day to shift policy and push ideologically opposed leaders toward reconciliation. There was never a more savvy negotiator, whether he was bargaining for European peace or setting the price on one of his very expensive canvasses. He was a peaceful man but believed in the use of military force, even its pre-emptive use, but in drastic situations only. Rubens had more than one contemporary who considered him as fine a statesman as he was an artist, and that was saying something, because in that field he was, indisputably, the tops.

A Bibliophile’s Revelation


It would be nice if an author were somehow able to pick up Domenichino’s St. John the Evangelist (c. 1627) when it comes up for auction at Christie’s in London this December. The picture seems, as much as anything, a celebration of the act of writing and the ecstasy of the written word. True, the writing process sometimes feels more like torture than pleasure, but this is a picture about visions, so we can allow for artistic license. Here, Domenichino’s rather effeminate and disheveled St. John composes the book of Revelation on the Greek island of Patmos (not a bad writer’s retreat) and looks as if he’s barely made it out of bed (typical writerly behavior). If this were painted today, his trusted eagle and putti would be replaced by an open laptop with a live Twitter feed, a half-eaten bagel, and a large mug of fair-trade coffee. As it is, the painting is likely to draw upward of $10 million, a bit stiff for any scribe, even one named Brown or Rowling.

Tiepolo Pink

I’m happy and honored to report that Master of Shadows has been named an Indie Next Notable Book for November by IndieBound, the organization of America’s independent booksellers. But let me take a break from pimping my own work to mention Roberto Calasso’s latest, Tiepolo Pink. Giambattista Tiepolo isn’t a painter with whom Americans are too familiar, which is unfortunate. Here Calasso argues the Venetian has long had an unfair reputation as a lightweight, a painter of pretty, decorative pictures, and an exemplar of the Italian notion of sprezzatura, a kind of easy, effortless grace. He had that in spades, but Calasso makes a good case that there was an intellectual depth to his work that has eluded generations of flummoxed art historians. Calasso, a Milanese publisher, has written a very Italian book: It is florid, elliptical, dense, digressive, and almost preposterously erudite. You are not likely to find another study of Italian mannerism that references Sydney Greenstreet, which is probably a good thing. American art historical writing, by way of contrast, tends to be dry and straightforward, jargon-rich and politicized. Calasso, however, writes with the easy elegance of his subject (you can understand the attraction). Reading him is like unpacking a suitcase of ideas. Also, a dictionary will probably be required. The production department at Knopf ought to be especially commended for the elegant package; they have clearly lavished great care on this book. Illustrations, in color and black and white, are run through the text on thick, cream paper. Best of all is the jacket, designed by Peter Mendelsund, a lovely, spare, and clever presentation. It’s not even pink.