Martin Kemp (art historian)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Martin Kemp
A photograph of Kemp
Kemp in 2014
Martin John Kemp

(1942-03-05) 5 March 1942 (age 81)
Known forLeonardo da Vinci scholarship;
Images in art and science
Academic background
Alma materDowning College
Courtauld Institute of Art
Academic work
DisciplineArt history
InstitutionsDepartment of History of Art, University of Oxford

Martin John Kemp FBA (born 5 March 1942) is a British art historian and exhibition curator who is one of the world's leading authorities on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci.[1][2] The author of many books on Leonardo, Kemp has also written about visualisation in art and science, particularly anatomy, natural sciences and optics. Instrumental in the controversial authentication of Salvator Mundi to Leonardo, Kemp has been vocal on attributions to Leonardo, including support of La Bella Principessa and opposition of the Isleworth Mona Lisa.

From 1995 to 2008 he was professor of art history at the University of Oxford and has continued since then as an emeritus professor. He previously held posts at University of St Andrews (1981–1995) and University of Glasgow (1966–1981). He holds honorary fellowships of both Trinity College, Oxford and Downing College, Cambridge and is also a fellow of the British Academy.

Early life[edit]

In his youth, Kemp attended Windsor Grammar School.[3][a] From 1960 to 1963, he studied natural sciences and art history at Downing College, Cambridge[b] and the history of Western Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London from 1963 to 1965.[4][5][6]


For more than 25 years he was based in Scotland where from 1966 to 1981 he was a lecturer at University of Glasgow and Professor of Fine Arts from 1981 to 1990 and Professor of the History and Theory of Art from 1990 to 1995 at University of St Andrews.[7][8] Kemp was Professor of Art History at the University of Oxford from 1995 to 2008, during which he helped create the Centre for Visual Studies, which opened in 1999.[9] Notably, Edgar Wind had held this post from 1955 to 1967 and subsequently Francis Haskell from 1967 to 1995.[5] Since 2008 he has been emeritus professor of the art history there.[7] He has held various visiting professorship posts at institutions such as Princeton University, University of Cambridge, University of Chicago and Harvard University.[7][5] Kemp received the prestigious British Academy Wolfson Research Professorship—An award offered by the Wolfson Foundation.[10]—and from 1993 to 1998 and was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1991.[8] With art historian Marina Wallace, Kemp launched the "Universal Leonardo" website.[5] In 2022, Kemp and author Waqas Ahmed created an online course entitled "The Da Vinci Masterclass" highlighting Da Vinci's career. Menachem Wecker for ArtNet commented that the course "illuminated both Leonardo's and Kemp's ways of thinking".[11] The course was also presented in-person at the Royal Institution in 2023.[12]


Kemp has written many books about Leonardo da Vinci, his first of which, Leonardo da Vinci. The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man in 1981, won the Mitchell Prize in art history for best first book.[13] He has published on imagery in the sciences of anatomy, natural history and optics, including The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (Yale University Press). The art theorist and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim said that The Science of Art "may deserve to be called the definitive treatise on its topic" though its detail may make it difficult reading for non-specialists.[14]

He has written a regular column called "Science in Culture" in the scientific journal Nature. Selections of these columns have been published as Visualisations (OUP, 2000) and Seen and Unseen (OUP, 2006): the latter exploring his concept of "structural intuitions". Reviewing Visualisations, the historian of ideas Scott L. Montgomery described Kemp as like a "master gardener" who "for nearly two decades, [...] has helped shape this new field in major ways, planting a wide array of topics, arranging the colors of their importance, surveying and reconstituting the efforts of others, all the while adding original species of insight and subject matter."[15] In 2011 he published Christ to Coke: How Image becomes Icon (OUP, 2011).[16][17]

Salvator Mundi[edit]

The Salvator Mundi is a painted wooden panel depicting Christ. It was exhibited in 2011 as an original work by Leonardo da Vinci, but the attribution has been controversial, with some scholars describing da Vinci as a contributor but not the main artist.[18] Kemp's research supported its attribution to da Vinci.[19][20] He said that as soon as he viewed the painting, he recognised the presence and "uncanny strangeness" of da Vinci's works.[21] The painting was sold in 2017, setting a new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at public auction.[22] In a 2019 book, Kemp identifies symbolism in the painting that is familiar from da Vinci's other religious paintings.[18] He is interviewed in the 2021 documentary about the work, The Lost Leonardo.

La Bella Principessa[edit]

La Bella Principessa

In 2010 he published a monograph together with French engineer Pascal Cotte, recounting the story of how a team of experts – under his guidance – pieced together the evidence for the theory that the painting now named La Bella Principessa was by Leonardo. The book, entitled La Bella Principessa (2010), narrates the steps Kemp and Cotte took in researching the painting. The 2012 Italian edition, La bella principessa di Leonardo da Vinci[23] produces evidence about its origins.[6]


Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Kemp, Martin (1990). The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-04337-2. OCLC 18832748. reprinted with revisions in 1992.
  • —— (1997). Behind The Picture: Art and Evidence in the Italian Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-07195-5. OCLC 37195363.
  • —— (2006). Leonardo Da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920778-7.
  • —— (2006). Seen/Unseen: Art, Science, and intuition from Leonardo to the Hubble Telescope. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929572-2. OCLC 69331733.
  • ——; Wells, Thereza (2011). Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna of the Yarnwinder: A Historical and Scientific Detective Story. London: Artakt & Zidane Press. ISBN 978-0-9554-8506-0. OCLC 267206478.
  • —— (2012). Christ to COKE: How Image Becomes Icon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-161704-1. OCLC 763156933.
  • —— (2013). The Chapel of Trinity College, Oxford, 1691-94: 'A Beautiful Magnificent Structure'. London: Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers. ISBN 978-1-85759-824-7. OCLC 834412864.
  • —— (2015). Art in History, 600 BC - 2000 AD. London: Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-78283-102-0. OCLC 905983684.
  • —— (2004). Leonardo. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280546-1. OCLC 55682608.
As editor
  • Vasari, Giorgio (2019). The Life of Leonardo da Vinci. Translated by Kemp, Martin; Russell, Lucy Emma Victoria. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-23985-8. OCLC 1079261129.
  • Leonardo da Vinci (2019). Laurenza, Domenico; Kemp, Martin (eds.). Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester: A New Edition (First ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-883287-4. OCLC 1108727522.



  1. ^ Vogel, Carol (20 January 2003). "Renaissance Genius as Compulsive Draftsman; An Exhibition Explores Leonardo's Creative Process With a Wealth of Examples". New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  2. ^ Charney, Noah (6 November 2011). "The lost Leonardo". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  3. ^ Lankford, Mike (17 August 2018). "The Keeper of the Keys Tells His Tale". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Martin J Kemp: Curriculum Vitae". martinjkemp. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Honigman, Ana Finel. "Universal Leonardo". artnet. Artnet Worldwide Corporation. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Professor Martin John Kemp". University of Cambridge. July 2016. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art". University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Professor Martin Kemp FBA". The British Academy. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Professor Martin Kemp". University of Oxford. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Wolfson Research Professorships". The British Academy. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  11. ^ Wecker, Menachem (25 November 2022). "5 Surprising Things We Learned About Leonardo da Vinci From Historian Martin Kemp's New Online Masterclass". ArtNet. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  12. ^ "The Da Vinci masterclass (short course) | Royal Institution". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  13. ^ Kemp, Martin (1986). "Simon Stevin and Pieter Saenredam: A Study of Mathematics and Vision in Dutch Science and Art". The Art Bulletin. Taylor & Francis. 68 (2): 237–252. doi:10.1080/00043079.1986.10788336. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  14. ^ Arnheim, Rudolf (1991). "The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art From Brunelleschi to Seurat by Martin Kemp (review)". Leonardo. 24 (1): 92–93. doi:10.2307/1575491. ISSN 1530-9282. JSTOR 1575491. S2CID 191517909.
  15. ^ Montgomery, Scott L. (June 2004). "Martin Kemp. Visualizations : The Nature Book of Art and Science. xvi + 202 pp., illus., bibl., index. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000. $35". Isis. University of Chicago Press. 95 (2): 277–279. doi:10.1086/426208. ISSN 0021-1753.
  16. ^ "What makes an image an icon?". Oxford University Press. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  17. ^ York, Peter (9 December 2011). "Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon, By Martin Kemp". The Independent. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  18. ^ a b Fagnart, Laure (February 2022). "Leonardo's Salvator Mundi and the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts, by Margaret Dalivalle, Martin Kemp and Robert B. Simon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp. 382)". English Historical Review. CXXXVII (584). hdl:2268/266703. ISSN 0013-8266.
  19. ^ Kinsella, Eileen (12 June 2019). "Debunking This Picture Became Fashionable': Leonardo da Vinci Scholar Martin Kemp on What the Public Doesn't Get About 'Salvator Mundi". artnet. Artnet Worldwide Corporation. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  20. ^ Brown, Mark (11 October 2018). "World's most expensive painting is authentic Leonardo, insists expert". the Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2022.
  21. ^ Goldstein, Andrew M. (17 November 2011). "The Male "Mona Lisa"?: Art Historian Martin Kemp on Leonardo da Vinci's Mysterious "Salvator Mundi"". Blouin Artinfo.
  22. ^ Au-Yeung, Angel (15 November 2017). "At Auction, Billionaire Sells Da Vinci Painting For A New World Record Price". Forbes. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  23. ^ Kemp, Martin J., and Cotte, Pascal (2012). La bella principessa di Leonardo da Vinci. Ritratto di Bianca Sforza. Firenze: Mandragora. ISBN 978-88-7461-173-7
  24. ^ Maynard, Patrick (Winter 1996). "Perspective's Places". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 54 (1): 23–40. doi:10.2307/431678. JSTOR 431678 – via JSTOR.
  25. ^ Conrad, Peter (21 October 2000). "Spectacular Bodies". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  26. ^ Baumgartner, Barbara (1 March 2004). "Book Review: Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now, by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace. Jointly published by the Hayward Gallery and the University of California Press, 2000. 232 pp". Journal of Medical Humanities. 25 (1): 79–81. doi:10.1023/B:JOMH.0000007536.30721.5c. ISSN 1573-3645. S2CID 145615453.
  27. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment, Design". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  28. ^ Riding, Alan (5 October 2006). "Leonardo: A master of lateral thinking – Arts & Leisure – International Herald Tribune". New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  29. ^ Castle, Tim (11 October 2007). "London show strips bare 2,500 years of erotic art". Reuters. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  30. ^ a b Christensen, Lauren (27 July 2019). "A da Vinci for Any Budget". New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]