Monday, 31 October 2011

to Paul Barford

Look at:
You could have asked. I have a website and available email.
Have you read the original book?
Have you seen the drawing, at least in high res?
Do you know about vellum? Have your tried cutting it?
Do you know about the production of specially printed books on vellum?
Do you know about the other versions in London and Paris and their foliation?
Etc etc.
One placement in the book is, as is clear in the narrative, to match where the stitching is most visible; the other is the actual placement.
A small sample was used for the carbon dating, obviously. The thickness was measured thus.
Poland has not been "dragged in".
We have a responsibility  as historians to use language properly and not to post such assertively categorical comments without checking adequately.  Amateur, irresponsible and damaging.
Pascal Cotte has prepared a point-by-point rebuttal.

comments on La Bella Principessa

One of the problems on the web is that anyone can set themselves up as an authority and purport to produce "historical" arguments without any sense of the status of evidence and methods of demonstration. A recent example is
Barford cobbles together bits from some press discussions, which he then uses as the basis of a series of arbitrary assertions. He has not looked at the full evidence available on the website of the Leonardo da Vinci Society or on the Lumiere Technology website. Codicology (the study of the compilation of codices) is something that needs to be thought through very systematically. The web, and, indeed all electronic means of communication, exhibit a tendency to foster ill-researched polemics that masquerade as objective reviewing of evidence. I have submitted a comment, which is subject to Barford's editing. It will be interesting to see if he posts it.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

alternative economic system

The camper-protesters around the world are accused off offering no alternative.  That is not fair. The first step is to establish the fact that we need to start thinking radically. I'm writing a piece on Christ to Coke for  the Wall Street Journal Source on line. My eye was caught by a contribution by Don Tapscott. Given the reality that we won't be able to sweep away all the capitalist and monetarist apparatuses, he is at least suggesting that we should be able to see what's going on:

"The day-to-day gambles of Wall Street almost brought down global capitalism and yet, so far, nothing fundamentally has changed.
Restoring long-term confidence in the financial services industry requires more than individual banks changing their behavior or even government intervention and new rules. The industry needs a new modus operandi, where all of the key players (banks, insurers, investment brokers, rating agencies and regulators) embrace principles such as transparency, integrity, collaboration and sharing of information. For example, banks should open up financial modeling and make pertinent assumptions and data transparent to all interested parties.
Financial modeling allows analysts to estimate the value of goods ranging from a company’s stock to a barrel of oil. The valuations, and associated risk estimates, are behind almost every financial instrument. Over time, both the products, and the underlying financial models, have become increasingly complex, and therefore, opaque.
In contrast, the Open Models Valuation Company is using the web to create a global community of experts dedicated to establishing credible valuation and risk assessments for credit securities and contracts such as CDOs, CDSs and other derivatives. It rejects the current system’s opacity, using an open process for academics, industry experts, quantitative analysts, banks and investors to collaborate and determine the worth of such securities.
Craig Heimark, a long-time industry veteran and one of the founders of Open Models, likens it to the scientific peer-review process: “In the scientific world when people publish something, they don’t just publish their results, but also the steps in the process, their methods and assumptions so that they can be vetted by others.”

Clarity, simplicity and transparency are characteristic of all great revolutions. The time has come for a the first ever true revolution in our our financial institutions.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Adam the composer

The R3 composer(s) of the week have been Adam and Delibes. Pure purgatory, or worse. When I went to the ballet The Corsair in St Petersburg I assumed that Adam was the name for a committee of composers who had been charged with saturating a score with as many soupy and racial cliches as could conceivably be squeezed into a single piece. I now discover he was a real composer with a substantial career. Ugh!
It is one of the characteristics of music that it can produce instant cliches. I don't think the visual arts can do this. Schubert was the greatest master of the instant cliche, above all in his lieder - words, melodies, accompaniments, simultaneously and unerringly. The Earl King is comically awful - Mein Vater mein vater... The Goethe poem's inherent kitsch is drawn out with extraordinary precision.
One of my ambitions is to be invited on to Michael Berkeley's Private Passions  on R3. I would include hates under my passions. Anything by any composer called Strauss, almost all romantic opera (shouting to music), all country-and-western and Vera Lynn. These and others on my list (don't ask) induce real feelings of bodily discomfort. Wagner even beyond that. Bad painting produces nothing as intense. Odd.

Monday, 17 October 2011

festivals and lectures

Another interval after much activity, mainly promotional, most notably the Cheltenham Literary festival and Wootton village hall (!). It's interesting how all the lit fests, which proliferate every year, have very distinct characters. Cheltenham is one of the big ones, and has a tented village, like Hay, and its setting in the middle (literally) of a handsome Georgian town gives it an obvious affinity with Edinburgh. However it feels different. The talk was in the very large town hall - worryingly large when I was setting up the visuals. What if only 50 people came, rattling around in a a 500+-seater? In the event the hall was close to full, a great relief. Speaking on Leonardo helps. He pulls in the punters. I concentrated on the Mona Lisa, always news, and the Salvator Mundi, the "new" painting to be shown at the National Gallery in November. Both are in Christ to Coke. I suspect that had I been billed as speaking on the book, the audience would have been significantly smaller. Then on Friday eve in the wooden village hall at Wootton - something completely different, as they say. But not a standard village hall event. Andy Morgan the maestro of the hall has managed to drawn in an amazing cast of speakers and an audience to match.  My PA, Judd, lives nearby and is a regular attender (say no more). Again on the ML and SM, developed from the Cheltenham talk, though it was in some ways less good. I've been working on giving such talks a more performative feel, compared to an standard academic lecture. The connection with the audience is more vivid.
I speculate about how characters of various entities and enterprises arise and persist. These characters often endure even when all the personnel involved have completely changed. Sports teams, with their very rapid turn-over of players, illustrate this very clearly. I reckon if I went to watch a game of league hockey in Scotland, where I played most of my competitive hockey, I could make a fair shot at identifying the teams even if they were not wearing their standard shirts. At very top level in football the characters of leading teams may now be more malleable, but there are still persistent traditions about how Manchester United play etc. The English Premier league, for all the huge influx of overseas players, still plays a recongisably "English brand" of football, based on a kind of impatient athleticism. Clearly much of the impetus from this comes from the crowd, who collectively transmit something to the players in a non-verbal way. Such cultures are at once hugely complex, dynamic and elusive while remaining remarkably stable and even monolithic. At a certain level the nature of the culture can best be intuited rather than described and analysed. The very best writers and commentators on sport "get" this and can convey it to us. The average ones just describe; the very good ones analyse; the great ones evoke.

Monday, 10 October 2011

DNA and Christ to Coke

Listening to Start the Week, centred on books about the British Empire. Jeremy Paxman said that British assumptions about the Empire are part of our "genetic" makeup (or words to that affect). It is common to say that some cultural (i.e. acquired) trait is in our DNA. In one way, this is a very sloppy way of speaking and thinking - as if there is an "Empire" gene - but in other it testifies to the way that major iconic symbols become so malleable that they serve as parts of speech in a way that they loose their original specificities of meaning. The images in Christ to Coke (including the double helix) do this repeatedly. We commonly speak of a "quantum leap" to signal a massive (often conceptual change), when a quantum is actually a minimal quantity involved in a reaction. A quantum leap occurs, for example, when an electron  appears to jump instantaneously across different energy levels. Something very quick and very tiny has come to mean something very big.

The BBC story - - which is very nicely set up, gives the impression that I am saying my 11 examples are the most famous of all. In fact I am providing what bid fair to be the most famous examples of 11 TYPES of iconic iconic image. However, of the book stimulates a parlour game of the top ten across all types, that's fine.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Paul Biro

I should say with respect to the legal action of  Paul Biro against the New Yorker that  the work he undertook on the fingerprint on the portrait was conducted in an entirely straightforward and professional manner. He was shown the image of the print by Pascal Cotte and provided with comparative material from Leonardo's paintings. I am now more cautious about whether we have adequate reference material and criteria for identifying a fingerprints by Leonardo to a good evidential level, but this is not to cast aspersions on the work he did for us. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, it is terrible to see someone's career potentially going down in flames.

Steve Jobs

In response to the death of Steve Jobs, I'm pasting the piece I wrote for the Bookseller in connection with Christ to Coke, on which I have recorded an item for this evening BBC TV news.

Apple of My Eye
Martin Kemp reflects on the retirement (and now death) of Steve Jobs

It must have been 1986. An alien upright, off-white plastic box was sitting on my desk at home. It’s small TV-style screen, not much more than 6 inches across, stared at me, mutely challenging. At least the stripy Apple logo towards the bottom left  of the case seemed friendly. I had chosen to “go Mac” because I found the coded interfaces on standard pcs and their brutish angular boxes to be hugely unattractive.

The man in the computing department in St. Andrews had demonstrated it to me with the distinctly sniffy air of someone who thought it was a toy rather than a serious piece of equipment. But I immediately sensed that I could work with the visually intuitive interface – even if the result of tapping a key and something appearing on the screen seemed oddly dislocated compared to the mechanical plunk of a metal typewriter key on a piece of paper over a roller. I was also relieved to find that my friends in art and design were mainly Mac people.

I did wonder how they got away with using the apple logo, when it was firmly associated with New York as the “Big Apple”. But California is a different world and seemed not to care about the possible confusion. In any event, by 1977 Milton Glaser’s iconic  “I NY “had largely taken over. The heart shape is ultimately more iconic than an apple, in spite of Eve’s and Steve’s best efforts.

At this early stage I was aware of Apple Macintosh and its image – and its appealing minority status in academia – but not of Steve Jobs himself. I now know that it was  because of his own instinctive sense of design and of visual modes of operation that my alien machine was soon transformed into a cooperative companion. Like most friends, it sometimes did something I did not understand, producing a feeling of blank impotence of the kind that a typewriter never induced.

It was after Job’s return to Apple in 1997, having been ousted a dozen years earlier, that his own personality seemed to move progressively to the forefront. His public battle with pancreatic cancer from 2004 onwards reinforced his image as one of the heroic Americans.  Like Bill Gates, he became a widely recognised figure, emblematic of the new IT industries and of the stratospheric financial success of nerds who had dropped out of tertiary education.

Latterly, vegetarian-thin and spiritually intense, invariably dressed in dark turtle-neck and Levi jeans, Jobs ruled as the lord  high sorcerer at the launches of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and inventive apps.  The Apple logo is still there – a glowing silhouette on the lid of my MacBook Pro – but it now carries with it indelible associations with Jobs himself. Any iconic image needs rich personal associations to survive. Apple’s apple is not yet quite the Coke bottle but it stands alongside Nike’s “swoosh” as a commercial logo with world-wide resonance.

Martin Kemp’s Christ to Coke. How Image Becomes Icon is published by Oxford University Press in October.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

New Yorker etc.

On Sat 1st Oct in New York for the New Yorker Festival - a panel of "sleuthing", with Stacy Schiff (the very lively biographer), an impressive former CIA agent and a scary NYPD officer. The cop was the very image of Rooster Cogburn in the Cohen Brothers disappointingly formulaic remake of True Grit. So laid back as to be almost horizontal and a voice like gravel rolling slowly in a wooden box.
I've been on panels where it is obvious what the panellists have in common. And some panels have not worked. In this case, we were so alert to the obvious fact that it was not very evident why we were on  the stage together, we worked hard to find surprisingly strong affinities of method - centred not least on the perpetual scrutiny of the status of sources and conscious scepticism. The session was set up and chaired by the journalist David Grann, who managed well to devise some shape for the event and to keep everyone in play.
Lots of nice ironies.  David Grann's long piece on the attribution of the Leonardo portrait on vellum had made severe allegations of malpractice against Paul Biro, who had written on the fragmentary fingerprint that Pascal Cotte had found on the vellum. Although Grann's piece was fair on what Pascal and I had done, the allegations about Biro served to allow those hostile to the attribution to dismiss all our evidence. The fingerprint analysis comprised only a small and subsidiary part of our argument, but  the press seized disproportionately on the cops-and-robbers dimension of the print - as the "killler" evidence.  Biro is suing Grann and the New Yorker. Afterwards I met the lawyer who is representing Biro (though I have no direct engagement with the case). The same lawyer has also been leading the action taken Jeanne Marchig, the previous owner of the portrait, who has been suing Christie's NY. Jeanne is altogether admirable - stoic, honest and charming. She has been selling works owned by her late husband to support her animal charities. The case has so far foundered on being out of time (the Statute of Limitations), but there are still possibilities apparently. It is clear that Christie's were negligent in their handling of the work, which they said was German 19thC on no sound basis, but the case has been deemed to have been brought too long after the sale. The law, as usual, is more concerned own arcane technicalities than natural justice. The evening before I had dinner with the very well-informed and urbane lawyer who once represented the owner of the portrait. Who says academics live in ivory towers? All grist to the mill of Living with Leonardo when I get round to writing it.
The press and media coverage of out new research on the origins of the portrait has been extensive and generally favourable. But I have no responses from the scholars to whom I sent the full study before the press deadline.

paradox of blogging

A paradox of trying to run a blog is that when there is a lot to blog about I don't have time to do it.
More anon...