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Who was Leonardo da Vinci?
Leonardo da Vinci is the greatest visual thinker the world has seen. He is also a hugely original verbal thinker. Indeed, the visual and verbal are integrated in a unique way. A page of Leonardo’s drawings and writings looks like no-one else’s.
His researches into forms and functions in the world embrace anatomy, physiology, geology, the pre-history of the earth, the behaviour of water, botany, zoology, flight, statics and dynamics, geometry, music, optics, and astronomy. On these foundations he used his creative powers to devise machines (civil, military), design buildings (civil and military), plan canals and bridges, invent flying machines – and along the way to make wonderful works of art.
This sounds to us like he did lots of different things. But for Leonardo himself, everything was related to the greater whole within the context of the operations of nature. We separate, classify and compartmentalise knowledge. He brought things together. He saw fundamental commonalities across nature, such as the shared features of the ‘body of the earth’ and the human body. We will reinstate the fractured unity, seeing how Leonardo can teach us to look at things in a new way – a way that has never been more urgent as we deal with the consequences of thinking we are masters of nature rather than an integral component of the natural world,
Meet your instructor
Martin Kemp is the world’s leading authority on Leonardo da Vinci. He is Emeritus Professor in the History of Art at Trinity College. Oxford University
He was trained in Natural Sciences and Art History at Cambridge University and the Courtauld Institute, London. His books include, The Science of Art. Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (Yale), and The Human Animal in Western Art and Science (Chicago). He has published and broadcast extensively on Leonardo da Vinci, including the prize-winning Leonardo da Vinci. The marvellous works of nature and man, and Leonardo (both Oxford). His Christ to Coke. How image becomes icon (Oxford) looks at 11 representatives of types of icons across a wide range of public imagery. He wrote regularly for Nature, his essays for which have been published as Visualizations and developed in Seen and Unseen (both Oxford) in which his concept of “structural intuitions” is explored. His most recent books is Art in History (Profile Books and Structural Intuitions. Seeing Shapes in Art and Science (Virginia).
He has been a Trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, The Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum. He has curated and co-curated a series of exhibitions on Leonardo and other themes, including Spectacular Bodies at the Hayward Gallery in London, Leonardo da Vinci. Experience, Experiment, Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006 and Seduced. Sex and Art from Antiquity to Now, Barbican Art Gallery London, 2007.
"[Martin Kemp is} the greatest Leonardo scholar of our time"
1. THE UNITY OF NATURE
We are an integral part of nature. In fact Leonardo saw the human body as a “lesser world” in terms of physical structures and dynamics. This session explores Leonardo's breathtaking observations on nature, covering anatomy, physiology, geology, and paintings with landscapes. Leonardo will teach you to have a respect for nature; his works demonstrating our helplessness in the face of massive natural cataclysms.
2. WORKING WITH NATURE
This lesson illustrates how the engineer learns from Nature. For example, Leonardo showed us just how the engineer must work with natural law to design viable schemes. His designs of instruments for the management of water are particularly compelling. His works also show how warfare leads to the destruction of nature. Finally, Leonardo's work on human flight demonstrates the significance of biomimicry in engineering.
3. SEEING AND UNCERTAINTY
Leonardo unveiled that there are things we can know and things we cannot. He emphasises the role of “experience” and experiment in pursuit of knowledge. Yet this lesson explains the move of Leonardo’s early certainties to uncertainty. He adopts the doctrine of “double truth” and "the ineffable", something modern physics is now exploring. Through Leonardo's investigations into optics, we see how he develops the “optics of uncertainty”, which plays into his late paintings.
"Through this Masterclass, we will see how Leonardo can teach us to look at things in a new way – a way that has never been more urgent as we deal with the consequences of thinking we are masters of nature rather than an integral component of the natural world."
Professor Martin Kemp BA
4. MATHEMATICS OF EVERYTHING
This lesson outlines how Leonardo explores the rules of mathematics in nature, including systems of proportion, arithmetic and the rule of numbers. He places a special emphasis on geometry and incommensurable (irrational) proportions. Leonardo's approach shows us how he saw human creations in this mathematical context through knots, bearings, gears and temples. These insights ultimately lead to him "squaring the circle" with the Vitruvian Man.
5. THE ART OF SCIENCE
We've come to know the concept of lateral thinking, but through Leonardo we learn about the value of "lateral seeing". In this lesson, selected works of Leonardo's art are looked at in chronological order, together with their scientific aspects such as vortices, light, music, anatomies, physiognomics, bodily mechanics, the folding of cloth and optics. What emerges are the limits of science (vis-a-vis art) when trying to express the infinite.
6. LESSONS FROM LEONARDO
Leonardo's refusal to compartmentalise knowledge stands in sharp contrast to our systems of learning, which constrain our ability of the relate the parts to the whole in creative syntheses. Leonardo sees knowledge as a branching tree, and each tree is part of the whole wood. We see neither the trees nor the wood – only twigs. Leonardo's thinking methods might just allow us to make more sense of the complexities of our 21st century world.
What you will get:
6 x 40 minute lessons, each broken down into 10-15 minute powerful chunks
Professionally produced, exclusive lesson content accessible anywhere, anytime
Specially crafted e-handbook, with supplementary content and carefully selected resources
Practical assignments designed to get you thinking like Leonardo
Bonus content: Martin Kemp recounts his most special memories "living with Leonardo" for 50 years
Invitation to biannual virtual Graduation with live Q&As with Martin Kemp and Waqas Ahmed