• Perspective



Kim H. Veltman


Martin Kemp, Leonardo da Vinci. The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Professor Kemp has set out to write about Leonardo as a whole and has succeeded admirably. His chronological account is much more than a simple list of facts. He offers explanations how the major paintings fit into Leonardo's development, with stimulating interpretations in each case. While the book has an artistic bias Leonardo's science in its universality receives attention: e. g. his studies in perspective, engineering, aeronautics, water, pulleys, stage-designs, cartography, geometrical transformation, anatomy, geology, optics and astronomy. Kemp outlines Leonardo's development from a concern with how questions in the first Florentine period (pre-1482) to a preoccupation with why questions (86, 89) in the first Milanese period (14B2-1500). In the early period, he claims, Leonardo worked from function to form. In the late period this was reversed (286, 289). That Leonardo sometimes regresses in the late period is not mentioned.

Too often Leonardo is seen as either an illiterate or a copyist. Kemp strikes a balance, reminding us of Leonardo debts to tradition while stressing his independent contributions. Nonetheless, the role of tradition could have been stressed more. The diagram concerning squaring of the circle (253) is almost certainly from Francesco di Giorgio Martini's treatise in which he wrote marginalia. Leanardo's concern with illusions reflects tradition, not a new awareness (332): e. g. the passage on G 26v (333) paraphrases Euclid's Optics (th. 10). Traditional also is the view of astronomy as an adjunct of optics (324): cf. Ptolemy, Witelo, Peeham. In Leonardo's writings the links between optics and astronomy are more extensive than Kemp suggests. With respect to anatomy Kemp finds a "major innovation" in the 'shared habitation of fantasia and inteletto' in the central cavity (127). Similar diagrams in Prothenus' Triloqium(1498) and Achillini's text (1503) suggest that this idea was not privy to Leonardo.

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