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Leonardo Hardcover – November 1, 2004
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"A serious book filled with fresh thought.... Kemp has succeeded at something that is possible only after years of reflection."--A. Richard Turner, Los Angeles Times
"Leonardo seen from the inside out.... A series of intense, learned meditations on Leonardesque themes.... Kemp tries to define what Leonardo thought he was doing, and why. He argues, convincingly, that Leonardo was constantly searching for a universal system of proportion--not merely a system of aesthetic proportion, like the famous Golden Mean, but a system of proportion that would explain, as Newton's inverse-square rule of gravity did, two centuries later, the fundamental workings of forces."--Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker
"A leading authority on Leonardo da Vinci, Kemp attempts to set forth a succinct, understandable, unified account of da Vinci's creative and intellectual life.... Fascinating, enlightening, well written, and easy to read."--Library Journal
"Excites the reader's admiration for the restless vitality of the man and his ideas.... Kemp is at his best when elucidating Leonardo's scientific investigations.... The heart of his book introduces us to some of the investigations that kept Leonardo from finishing paintings, ranging from optics, anatomy and engineering to geology and hydraulics."--Washington Post Book World
"Kemp, an eminent Oxford art historian and Leonardo scholar, has condensed what he calls Leonardo's 'strange career' as an artist, engineer, and musician into a series of key moments."--The Economist
"A noble attempt to bring a legend down to earth.... Kemp's experience offers just as many pleasures and benefits; after a career spent researching the artist, he's well suited to provide a personal account of Leonardo, enriched by anecdotes and contemporary analogies. At the close, he succinctly reviews why Leonardo is worth studying, using the Mona Lisa as case in point and giving a marvelous description of the experience of seeing the painting out of its frame and bullet-proof case. It makes an exceptional finale."--Kirkus Reviews
"If Martin Kemp's book is as widely read and discussed as it deserves to be, a new image of Leonardo will supplant that of the indecisive polymath. This new Leonardo will be seen as a consummate quester, one whose curiosity took him everywhere."--St. Petersburg Times
"Kemp is a recognized authority on Leonardo and has some more substantial things to say about him. The illustrations, the thumbnail gallery of the paintings and the biographical timeline also make this a concise and useful reference book."--San Jose Mercury News
About the Author
Martin Kemp is University Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, Trinity College. The author of The Oxford History of Western Art, he is an eminent art historian who has carried out extensive research into the art, science, and technology of Leonardo.
Top customer reviews
Unfortunately I tend to agree with what another reviewer described as Kemp's "not fluid" writing style. I would add that I found the book a "dry" read, almost technically put together, in an academic sense. It reminds me of a college textbook.
I do not for one minute doubt Kemp's credentials and knowledge of the subject.
Where he failed is to recreate, as every good biographer should, the nuances of the subject's personality and effect of his surroundings on him and vice versa.
Kemp goes into much technical detail about what he perceives as Leonardo's approach and philosophy, exhaustively details his various surviving works, but provides far too little in terms of what a biography should be; it fails to recreate in the reader's mind Leonardo's world, interactions, passion and the aura of the great Leonardo da Vinci. It gets to the point where I get the feeling Leonardo was a prolific machine, not a passionate artist.
5 stars for Kemp's effort minus three for failing to do Leonardo justice.