“Think of the Queen Mary – the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab.”
Friday, August 31, 2012
Image of Martin Kemp in the Ashmolean looking at Leonardo drawings. Photo by John Baxter. All rights reserved.
This exclusive interview with Professor Emeritus Oxford University, Martin was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Oxford, England during July 2012
Why did you become an art historian and researcher?
A series of accidents. I am a believer in the contingency view of history and biography. As historians we look for coherent patterns and intentions. We also do that when we look back on our own lives. But very often it is the chance event (a meeting, coming across something ….) that changes out course in a way that is totally out of proportion to the apparent significance of the event at the time. Such contingencies tend to become lost during the process of recording history.
It’s rather like the way the course of a mighty ocean liner can be can be changed by a small movement of the rudder. Buckminster Fuller, the visionary and inventor, understood this perfectly:
What led to your focus on the work of Leonardo da Vinci?
When I read Gombrich’s paper, I thought, “I really know what this is about”. I could see what he was doing, though his study missed some important aspects of medieval science and their impact on Leonardo. As a one-time biologist, anatomy was a logical point to begin. I went systematically through Leonardo’s anatomical studies, which, by good fortune, were almost all at Windsor Castle. I had been born in Windsor.
The research lead to two articles in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (edited by Gombrich) on Leonardo’s theory of mind and his changing views of the optics of seeing. I was on my more specific way.
Please discuss the two latest works that have come to light as being by Leonardo da Vinci?
What is the thrust of your recent book on the artist?
If you were to start over what career do you see yourself pursuing?
The above interview with Professor Emeritus Oxford University, Martin Kemp 2012 © Manner of Man Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.