I would like to write something about this book that i have alluded to a few times, Leonardo by Martin Kemp. It was my reading material during my last trip to China. Actually, it was more than that. In his book, Martin Kemp was so successful in drawing the reader into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci that Leonardo's world view began to infuse my own artistic sensibilities. I tried to look at things the way Leonardo might look at them. In my drawings and studies I started think about how Leonardo might set up the drawing. What his point of view be. How would he apply perspective. I feel that this book has strengthened my artistic approach and it has given much greater insights into one of the greatest minds of history.
After some preamble, the book is divided into six sections, 1) A Strange Career, 2) Looking, 3) Body and Machine, 4) The Living earth, 5) Telling Tales, and Lisa's Room, Leonardo's Afterlife. There is also a small gallery of pictures that became indispensable to me as I developed The Mermaid.
A Strange Career. when you look at Leonardo's life superficially he seems to have been an odd artist who sold almost no paintings. In this section, Kemp looked at the kinds of commissions that Leonardo received. then he examined how Leonardo obtained money, After that, he discussed how Leonardo conducted himself at court. There is a fascinating glimpse of how Leonardo managed his household and studio. Lastly, there are some personal comments about Leonardo's character.
In many ways Leonardo was attracted to court employment, It gave him security in cash flow and it allowed him to pursue other interests, that is other interests outside of artistic activities. Many of Leonardo's employers also used him as an engineer as well as a military adviser. Many of the paintings that Leonardo delayed or never finished painting can be attributed to the fact that he was drawn away to execute other projects and duties for his employers.
During his lifetime Leonardo lived a fairly prosperous life. at the end of his life when he lived in the court of king Charles he received a stipend but he was not required to do anything or produce anything. Throughout his life Leonardo received sums of money for the various works of art he produced but he also received payment for his engineering knowledge and for his military consultation. Leonardo not only received cash for his troubles, he also received several pieces of land during his lifetime. One of those parcels of land also gave him water rights which meant that he received income from anyone using his water.
Leonardo was essentially a visual person. As an artist that goes without saying. everything that he wrote was visual in nature. Leonardo focused on the world that he could see. he had little use for theory and the world that he could not see. His knowledge was derived from experience and observation. To Leonardo, everything was related to something else. He saw the world as a continuous series of event that were connected through cause and effect.
Renaissance painters were expected to represent the human figure as accurately and realistically as possible. In part, Leonardo derived his superb ability to draw realistically from the many hours that he toiled through the night engrossed in illicit dissections of corpses. He recorded his dissections in wonderful sketches that were probably the first accurate, modern drawings of the internal workings of the human body.
Leonardo worked on specific engineering projects for his patrons. Evidence of this would be his drawings of a jack that combines a worm gear with roller bearings to reduce friction.he came up with ingenious designs for fortresses that would minimize that damage done by cannon balls by creating walls that made it impossible for the balls to hit the wall flat on. Instead, the balls would hit corners of round sections of wall that would deflect the ball and cause little harm.
Leonardo regarded the earth as a living entity. His basic tenet was that the human body was a microcosm of the larger universe. He believed that the rules that governed the smallest creatures and forms were also the basis of all entities in the universe.
For someone who experienced the world visually, Leonardo was also very literary. He had 116 books in his collection. many of them were literary in nature, Latin grammars, poetry, etc. Leonardo was brilliant at thinking on paper. There are examples drawings that overlay drawings until their density is almost impenetrable.
In the end, Martin Kemp states that the reason Leonardo continues to be so unique is his very extraordinary nature, his understanding and use of visual art to understand and portray the world with an intensity and power that has rarely been equaled by artist or scientist. Leonardo is, well, Leonardo da Vinci.