Monday, 16 May 2016

Attribution and other issues, mainly Leonardo da Vinci

After speaking at the Art in Authentication Congress in The Hague, I confirm that I am withdrawing the "advice service" I have been providing. This is the relevant statement.


Attribution and other enquiries


After almost 40 years of responding carefully to every message about attribution and other enquiries, including many concerning supposed “secrets” hidden in Leonardo’s works, I am stepping aside from this aspect of my activity. As a professor, I have been committed to the notion of public service, and have not taken any money for opinions, but the quantity of material I receive and the abuse to which I am subsequently subject on the internet means that this ideal is no longer sustainable in the IT age. I am sorry. This is a pity, but my work as a historian in public is being seriously distorted, not least by the unnecessary personalisation of arguments about matters of judgement.  I will continue to engage selectively with a few major items/issues and with important developments in the academic and public domains.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Leonardo La Bella Principessa: personalisation of the debate

In view the personalised nature of recent postings on the web about the attribution to Leonardo da Vinci of the profile of Bianca Sforza on vellum, I wish to make the following statement.

I wholly reject the personalisation of the debate. A matter of professional judgement is just that and no more. I would rather be right than wrong, but no-one has a divine prerogative to be right.
The totality of the evidence about Leonardo's authorship and the identity of the sitter presents what is close to an open-and-shut case. If genuinely new and decisive evidence indicates to the contrary I will accept that.
Ultimately a single attribution is not a "big deal" to me, either in the local terms of my publications on Leonardo over 50 years, or far more importantly in human terms - it is not a matter of life and death, and pales into insignificance in the light of the problems faced by those less fortunate than those of us who have the time and means at debate such matters.

(I will not be saying more on this unless genuinely new evidence comes to light, with the exception of a long-arranged talk at the Art in Authentication Congress in the Hague on 12th May, and a chapter in my forthcoming book, Living with Leonardo [2017].)

Monday, 14 March 2016

Thursday, 10 March 2016

La Bella Principessa. Pisarek and allegations of forgery

After "Artibus et Historiae" declined to publish my response to Katarzyna Krzyzag├│rska-Pisarek's  article in Artibus et Historiae (XXXVI, 215, pp. 61– 89), it has been posted in up-dated form on the Art in Authentication website:

http://authenticationinart.org/aia-archive/aia-literature/
under the the title: 
Martin Kemp, Leonardo Da Vinci, La Bella Principessa: Errors, Misconceptions, And Allegations of Forgery, Oxford, 2016.

One of the big problems with the field of connoisseurship is that it often becomes overly personalised. It involves complex issues of perception and cognition that are quite malleable. We should be able to disagree in matters of fine judgement without impugning someone's competence and integrity
- unless of course their competence is not up to the job, in which case the demonstration of errors will be enough.

In my essay I have concentrated on criteria other than those of style and "eye".
My other piece on the AiA website deals with the different kinds of evidence, and how they might be evaluated:

http://authenticationinart.org/pdf/papers/Science-and-judgment-by-eye-in-the-historical-identification-of-works-of-Art-Martin-Kemp3.pdf


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Dealing with the media

First - sorry about not dealing with all the comments that people have kindly sent. I am having trouble with posting responses.

A young friend asked me for advice in dealing with the media. Although I have some training in this area, the following is based on personal experiences rather than fully authoritative. This is an edited version.

Basically the media / journalists are interested in “stories” that get their articles / programmes published / commissioned in the face of stiff competition. “Sources” like you and me are means to those ends. This does not mean that are are not interested in causes and rightness - and there are some very good, committed programme-makers -  but the final reality is commercial. TV programmes generally need an American market if they are medium or high budget. America likes sensation. Detailed cases, such a an elaborate scholarly provenance for a work of art, is not their priority.

The basic tenor of articles / programmes is confrontational. That is to say any case needs counter-arguments for the sake of what is called “balance”. This may mean trawling around very peripheral/marginal/dubious “authorities” to oppose what you and I might be saying.  We should always ensure that we know to whom they are talking and ensure that our contributions answer their opposition. If possible, it is good to see an outline and then the script.

With journalism, the “story” is everything. The journalists want something that gets them column inches.  This does not mean to say that truth counts for nothing, and journalists would rather get things right.  Make it clear what is off record and what is not. Most stories are ephemeral. It is good to bear this in mind if thinking of responding.  Often a response simply draws attention to the opposition, and in some cases plays into the hands of those who thrive on polemic.  Any response is best founded on gross errors not opinions. In responding, it is always best to emphasis the positive from the start, not to get on the back foot in relation to any attack. Defensiveness is the worst tactic.

At each stage you should make it clear what you are offering to do / disclose, and on what basis. I give one free consultation (often off the record), and make it clear what is confidential at that stage. Any further engagement with a projected programme needs some kind of agreement/contract (which my agent handles). You are in a less strong position than me, for obvious reasons, but you should make it clear that you need to be treated on a professional basis. At the end of the day, even the best of producers are interested in getting the best out of you and me for the smallest amount of money in order to serve their ends. The only way to modify this is by: 1) having exciting material that they cannot do without; 2) developing a good, collaborative, professional  relationship with all involved in a way that develops trust.

The big rule is, do not over-react. It’s easy to get a reputation for being “difficult”.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

PASCAL AND THE MANY MONA LISAS

Now that Pascal’s book is out in all its visual glory, and in the wake of the media interviews, edited as always to emphasise difference, it is worth laying out briefly how his researches look to me. It represents an extraordinary body of dedicated effort. He asked me for comments for his website - knowing that I disagreed with some of his interpretations.  He is a good guy.

The LAM technique undoubtedly provides an important new weapon in the armoury of those interested in scientific examinations of layered paintings. The Holy Grail of scientific examination is to disclose the successive layers that lie below the present surface. Pascal’s mode of analysis, adapting mathematical techniques from signal processing, is revealing far more from the deeper layers than was previously possible, but it does not definitively isolate information from a single layer. We are also unclear as to what is happening as the different frequencies of light penetrate the paint layers to varying degrees and interact in diverse ways with the varied optical properties of the materials within the layers of the picture. This means that tricky acts of interpretation are necessary – even more difficult than is the case with x-rays and infrared. There is always the danger of seeing what we want to see. None of us are immune from this.


Looking at a selection of the LAM images as an art historian, I can see things that are wholly consistent with Leonardo’s creative methods, such as the indication of the use of cartoon and the restless manoeuvrings of contours. Some of what Pascal sees and reconstructs, such as the elaborate headdress, makes no sense to me in terms of design procedures or in terms of Renaissance paintings. I have difficulties with his detailed reconstructions of finished or semi-finished paintings under the surface of the present one. Leonardo’s processes were very fluid, with things coming and going, and with varied levels of finish across the picture. There is obviously a question of presentation here, and I would have resisted the temptation to translate the complex and often ambiguous images from the lower layers into such definite “pictures”.

My strong sense, at this early stage in our understanding of what we are looking at, is that we are witnessing something consistent with the documentation and with Leonardo’s ways of proceeding. I see the painting beginning as a direct portrait of Lisa – building on the innovations of Leonardo’s Milanese portraits – and becoming increasingly conceptualised as picture that combines the combines the tropes of Renaissance love poetry with a profound interest in the microcosm of the human body and the “body of the earth”. I see a steady evolution from portrait to “picture”. The change in her draperies from a Florentine style (as Pascal shows) into a more conceptualised array of veils etc., is part of this process of generalisation. All this is consistent with the idea I first expressed in my 1981 monograph, that Giuliano de’ Medici asked Leonardo to finish the beautiful and remarkable picture when they were both in Rome from 1513-16.


Pascal is opening up very important fields for analysis.  We are at the beginning, Anyone is unwise to pronounce with certainty at this stage. I will have to make some sense of all this for the monograph of the Mona Lisa that I am currently writing with Giuseppe Pallanti.

Friday, 4 December 2015

La Bella Principessa "Forgery" again again - framed

I have been looking at Jeanne Marchig's testimony to the New York court on 17 Jan 2012.
She testified that "I had inherited the drawing from my late husband, Giannino Marchig (1897-1983), who was an art restorer and artist, and an expert in Italian Renaissance art. At that time the Drawing was in an antique ornate Florentine wooden frame, which it had been before I married him in 1955".
Fran├žois Borne of Christie's, rejecting the idea that it came from the Renaissance, as her husband and she firmly believed (though no mention by anyone of Leonardo), said that "your superb German drawing in the taste of the Italian Renaissance fascinates me. I think it is an object of great taste". He advised her "to change the frame in order to make it seem an amateur object of the 19th century not an Italian pastiche". The old frame (now disappeared), which looked like an Italianate mock-up from the 19th, was removed and replaced against Jeanne's wishes, and she did not approve of its cataloguing as German, but she felt she "no choice but to accede".

The date of 1955 rules out Greenhalgh (as do many other things), and works strongly against any other forgery theory, since the scientific examinations reveal features of which no forger could have been aware at that time. This applies to the scurrilous and unsupported identification of Marchig as the forger and to any other pre. 1955 forgery.

All that is left is for opponents to divert the argument into claiming that Jeanne Marchig lied profusely. She seemed to me to be a person of great credibility. I wish she were still with us to confirm the truth, which is evident to anyone who looks at the evidence with an open mind.