Essay Ren: Leonardo Da Vinci and Martin Kemp

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Martin Kemp. Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design .
Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design by Martin Kemp
Review by: Francesca Fiorani
Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Fall 2008), pp. 921-922
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Renaissance Society of America
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Martin Kemp. Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. x + 214 pp. index. illus. chron. bibl. $60.
ISBN: 0–691–12905–3.

In his impressive scholarship of many years, Martin Kemp has greatly clarified the workings of Leonardo da Vinci’s mind. Leonardo delighted in the verbal and visual exploration of any branch of natural philosophy, endlessly searching for general rules and for the best way to present them. His investigations were based on the idiosyncratic mixing of notes and drawings derived from past authorities and from his own firsthand observations. In Renaissance written culture,
Leonardo’s research stands out for the breath of its intellectual scope as well as for its fragmentary, scattered, and repetitious nature. Because of these characteristics, coupled with the difficulty of detecting its diachronic dimension, Leonardo’s legacy poses immense interpretative challenges to modern scholars who wish to order his chaotic legacy thematically and chronologically.
In the book under review Kemp synthesizes his deep knowledge of Leonardo’s mind and legacy for the benefit of the general public. Written in conjunction with an exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (September 2006–January

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2007), the book focuses on how Leonardo’s “thought was realized through graphic expression.” The scope is to “incite a fresh look at the way Leonardo filled his pages with words and images, with results that do not look quite anything else in the history of writing and drawing” (19). Effectively, Kemp selected the so-called
Theme Sheet of ca. 1490 (Windsor 12283r) to introduce visitors and readers to
Leonardo’s mind, interpreting its apparently unrelated drawings of plants, clouds, solids, horses, people, and machines as signs of Leonardo’s views on the relations among natural phenomena.
The exhibition included single sheets from the royal collections at Windsor
Castle, original notebooks from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Codices
Forster), and the Codex Arundel of the British Library. In four sections — “The
Mind’s Eye,” “The Lesser and Greater Worlds,” “Force,” and “Making Things” — the exhibition expanded the analysis of the deep relations adumbrated in the
“Theme Sheet.” (I did not see the exhibition but could reconstruct its display from the list of works published in the volume.) “The Mind’s Eye” presented the primary role that Leonardo assigned to the eye in judging the underlying geometry of human proportions, solids, lights, shadows, and weights. “The Lesser and
Greater Worlds” explored the…