Tuesday 27 September 2011

press release on Leonardo portrait

This (press release attached without the pics) should more or less settle the arguments - though probably not knowing the myopia of the art world:


The Original Source of the New Leonardo Portrait Discovered

In 2010, Martin Kemp and Pascal Cotte published a book on an exceptional and innovatory portrait on vellum executed in inks and coloured chalks. Controversy ensued. The portrait had been sold as a German early 19th-century Head of a Young Girl in Profile to the Left in Renaissance Dress at a Christie’s sale in New York on 30 January 1998. It was bought by the dealer Kate Ganz for $21,850. The current owner, who purchased it from Ganz for the price she had paid for it, intuited that it was an original Renaissance portrait, possibly by Leonardo da Vinci.

The attribution to Leonardo was confirmed by Nicholas Turner, Carlo Pedretti, Alessandro Vezzosi, Mina Gergori, Cristina Geddo and others. The chief opposition came from the New York experts and observers who had missed it when it was in the hands of Christie’s and Ganz, and unsurprisingly from Christie’s, who are subject to legal action from Jeanne Marchig, who had consigned the drawing for sale.

Given the three stitch holes along the left margin of the parchment, Kemp and Cotte concluded that portrait had originally been bound into a codex, most probably one of the luxury volumes presented at key moments to the “princesses” at the Sforza court. They provisionally identified the sitter as Bianca, the illegitimate daughter of Duke Ludovico Sforza, who was legitimised and married in 1496 to Galeazzo Sanseverino, the duke’s commander. She tragically died only a few months later.

New research by Kemp and Cotte shows that the portrait was excised from the eulogistic history of Francesco Sforza (the Duke’s father), the Sforziad by Giovanni Simonetta. It was printed on vellum and is now in the National Library in Warsaw.  The volume was specifically produced for the marriage of Bianca and Galeazzo in 1496.

Kemp and Cotte demonstrate that a corresponding page has been removed at some unknown date from the Warsaw book, and that the vellum of the portrait closely matches in all respects the physical characteristics of the opening pages.  The stitch holes in the vellum of the portrait match those in the book.
The technical analyses are being published in full on:

 They demonstrate that the portrait was placed after the introductory texts and before frontispiece.  We can now be confident that the portrait portrays Bianca, in celebration of her marriage, and that Leonardo was the artist.

The new findings are included in the revised edition of Martin Kemp’s Leonardo (Oxford University Press, 6 Oct).

Sunday 25 September 2011

survival of the fittest for the lab

Looking at the 22 Sept issue of Nature (I have a piece on artists in labs in the previous issue), it occurs to me that there should be a new evolutionary category: survival of the fittest for the lab.  Some animals and plants are used so regularly for genomic research and bred so extensively in labs that they have become incredibly "successful" in evolutionary (if not ethical) terms. For animals I am of course thinking of drosophila, the fruit fly (see http://www.fruitfly.org/). A good candidate amongst plants is arabidopsis, rock cress (http://www.arabidopsis.org/), the genome of which features in this week's Nature. However, the category "fittest for the lab" involves human intention and purposeful intervention, which removes it from hard Darwinian evolutionary theory, just as Richard Dawkins's "meme" (unit of cultural survival) cannot be seen other than superficially in Darwinian terms. Dawkins does not realise / acknowledge this, but he strategies, as in the Selfish Gene, have always been slippery and of dubious intellectual honesty.

Saturday 24 September 2011

the market

I heard one of the senior correspondents on the BBC (Hugh Pimm?) saying "the market thinks...", "the market believes". Hardly a day passes at present on the Today programme in which someone does not use formulations that depend on "the market" being a conscious entity in its own right. "The market" is simply a collective term for an untidy bundle of individuals and organisations that arises from an investment system in which money is made from any movement in shares, whether up or down. It is not some kind of super-brain that has an omniscient overview of the economic system in its wholes and parts. Even as an aggregation of largely irresponsible self-interests it results in hugely irrational behaviour. Why the stock market should be worth billions of dollars less or more during the span of a few hours has little to do with rational assessment and almost everything to do with superficially smart "blokes" who are operating the system for their short-term benefit. When that benefit becomes threatened, the herd instinct kicks in and they all run towards the edge of a cliff.

Linguistically speaking, it is not so much that we should abandon such collective nouns but that we should not endow a convenience term with a level of existence it does not have. "Imagination" for example, probably does not have a compact neurological existence, yet is is a valuable way of grouping features of the brain that collectively result in a certain kind of apparent process.

This moan is not just a question of a grumpy academic complaining about new turns in language - which is a continually fluid and manipulable thing - but of using types of words to do the wrong kind of job. It reflects sloppy, lazy and conventional thinking that prevents the real issues from being seen.

I should also say that "the market" does not operate to keep prices down through competition. It provides a mechanism whereby organisations individually and collectively try to charge the maximum they can get away with. This is the driving force. It is subject to a variety of opposing motions, but the basic mechanism is not a collective forcing down of prices. That is a secondary tactic.

energy and mass again

Just a further thought.
Einstein said that energy and mass are equivalent. What if they are the same, just one on thing, which we have not successfully identified and characterised? This would make the search for what provides mass redundant.
It occurs to me that the great edifice of modern physics is, like the Ptolemaic system in its later manifestations, an elaborate mathematical model that works well enough with observation, whilst remaining founded on a totally false premise.

Friday 23 September 2011

speed of light

Today we have suggestions from the Italian team working with the Large Hadron Collider that some particles are reaching then at greater than the speed of light. If this is true and confirmed (by no means certain) I would regard this as very good news. Modern physics, post-Einstein, seems to have riddled with logical fallacies and inconsistencies, which physicists have been happy to live with since the standard theory works well in practice and delivers on its predictions. I have asked physicists: what if your basic definitions of mass, velocity, energy etc. - essentially 19th-C definitions - are not suitable or adequate to deal with the new data? Most become rather irritated by such a stupid question; a few admitted that this might be the case, but then moved on, saying we have nothing to put in their place and what we have works OK. The same applies to definitions of space. Einstein's space-time paradoxically is defined in relation to the standard metrical parameters of space and time. "Bent" is bent in relation to the standard "box" of space, which should not be the referent since in theory  it does not exist other than as an working approximation for relatively small portions of cosmic space. We are told that time is warped, just like space, again in relation to regular increments of time. We are told that light acts  as a wave under certain conditions of observation and as a particle under other conditions. We are told that the speed of light is the one constant and cannot be exceeded. To me it seems that in any system, any one of the parameters may be taken as the constant with the other variables plotted against it. We are dealing with a mode of analysis not a question of one parameter being absolute and invariable. The relationship between the geometrical format of the spatial method of analysis and the physical reality has become confused. You can't define the relative in relation to the relative.
Could we be at the point, as when Newton "invented" his laws, or when Copernicus cleaned out the epicycles and eccentrics that saved the Ptolemaic system, that a great act of cleansing becomes possible? Might we be in a position to sweep away the ugly illogicalities of modern physics? Any new system will, I suspect be subject to the same process of crystalline simplification followed by steady incremental complication, which will in turn need cleansing. I hope so, but maybe this is a false dawn.

Thursday 22 September 2011

short selling

The definition of "short selling" involves selling shares that one does not yet own.
If I tried to sell something I did not posses, I would rightly be accused of fraud.

financial crisis and progress

I had hoped that the first wave of the protracted financial crisis might result in a radical re-think not only of how we operate our financial systems but also of the underlying principles. It began with the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The name itself indicates much of what was wrong. Bad, unreliable, insecure mortgages are described a "sub-prime" - a bit like describing stepping of the edge of a cliff as risky. The obscure complexity of the financial instruments, as signalled by the language used  - e.g. "derivatives" and "short trading" - goes beyond a matter of jargon, serious though that is. They obscure our seeing something for what it is - basically a duplicitous system in which there is more debt than credit to meet it and which is lubricated with selling packages of debt as assets.
The response then and now is to resort to the old measures. Quantitative easing (i.e printing money) and so on. Propping up the crumbling edifice with conventional devices that do not address the fundamental purposes of the economy.  The debate is now about how far the austerity can be tempered by measures to encourage growth. "Growth" is the mantra. What is meant is growth of Gross Domestic Product. There is only one kind of growth that is measured and is equated by politicians with what we want and need. "Our party alone will deliver growth". The kind of growth that is meant is based on a notion of material and technological progress that was born in the Renaissance. But does this kind of growth really represent progress, and, if so, progress of what. Can we redefine progress in a way that is not predicated on endlessly increased consumption? If we define progress  as a net increase in human well-being in relation to the basics I defined earlier in this blog, we can begin to scrutinise progress in a way that is not dependent on conventional measures. I know that "human well-being" is rather nebulous, but I think we can recognise what is meant.

A sense of progress may be wholly necessary to a human society. I think that the arts and sciences may provide a potential model for progress without ever-increasing consumption of natural resources.  The generation of Leonardo and Michelangelo built upon how Masaccio and Donatello portrayed the human figure. This does not mean that the two High Renaissance masters were better artists, but we can recognise that they could achieve some things that the predecessors could not in communicating profound truths through their understanding of the human body.
If we transfer this model to the health service, we can perhaps define the direction of travel in a more balanced way, asking which developments really make a significant contributions to human well being. These developments may well be widely applicable low-tech interventions rather than feeding the high tech research machines that seek hugely expensive means to prolong horribly painful lives beyond any point at which human well being is involved. We tinker at the edges of the widespread and obvious problem of obesity, for example - and I am including the obesity of the bankers and traders in this. We fiddle around with hyrdo-carbon consumption, without asking really searching questions about what we really need in individual human terms to give us lives worth living. I realise that the transition from "progress" in Renaissance art to progress in human well-being is a bit slippery, but we need less conventional ways of deriving our criteria if we are to be a humane society.
On a primary school trip from Clarence Road School in Windsor to the White Horse Downs, Ruth South, the daughter of the history master at the grammar school began to run down a steep hill. She gained pace... and gained pace. Her rival runner dropped out the race. Ruth covered 50 yards in a time previously unparalleled in the annals of our school athletics. She ended by shattering teeth in a sickening face-down collision with a tarmac road. At present we seem to be more concerned about measuring the the speed record than the likely end of the race.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Leonardo Salvator Mundi

This is the Salvator Mundi. Definitely by Leonardo, for a whole host of reasons (as the Sunday Times Magazine will reveal, and in due course a book to be published by Yale). It appears in Christ to Coke and before that in the revised edition of Leonardo for OUP (what I call my little Leonardo book). The Sunday Times will have the fullest account of my research and high res images of a kind not published before.

Christ to Coke promotion and the new Leonardo

Much activity during the last few days promoting the book, although it is not actually published until late October. First the book launch in the Feather's Hotel Woodstock. The first outing for my Che jacket (plate 6.14 in the book), and I wore no socks as a homage to Einstein. Yes, he really did not wear socks. Then speaking on the Sunday at the Woodstock Literary Festival. It's always unnerving for someone who has spent most of their career speaking to captive audiences to rely upon people turning up because they have decided to do so. At least the audience was a good size. Interesting questions.
Talking about the book in 40 mins is tricky, since there are 11 images. Running through them with 3-4 mins allocated to each would be pretty tedious. I decided, after an intro, to run through all 11 quite rapidly - partly to stimulate some audience thinking: "surely such-and-such an image is more famous that that one..." I then explain that I am taking leading examples of types of iconic image rather than providing a top 11. I can then explore some of the quirkier and more powerful stories for selected images. I find it difficult not to stumble when discussing the napalmed girl in Nick Ut's harrowing photograph and the events at Iwo Jima immortalised in Joe Rosenthal's  shots of the marines raising the flag. There is something in this talk on which to build for future outings.
On Monday at 9.00 Start the Week on Radio 4 with Andrew Marr. We have worked together before. He is professional, clever and draws very well! My fellow guests, Misha Glennie, Jane Parvitt and Tom Uglow (son of Jenny, the author), mesh together pretty well. It was fun. As I hoped, the range of material in C to C provides people with diverse interests their own way in.  Then to the Wallace collection restaurant for an interview with Kathy Brewis for the Sunday Times magazine. We concentrate on the "new" Leonardo, the Salvator Mundi, which is to make its public debut at the National Gallery in London in October. The interview was set up by OUP, and I am providing some exclusive information as promised. I would not necessarily have chosen the Sunday Times, but it's a question of who will provide the best coverage. I'll try to put up an image.
Monday is devoted to writing a piece for a Spanish Newspaper. They have asked for 100-150 words on each of my team of 11. (I've just realised that 11 is the number of players in football, cricket and hockey teams - the latter  my main sport). It's a real challenge, compressing things to that degree - a bit oppressive, and I go for a walk having done 5 of them. But I think it works, and it is a salutary exercise. I'll post it once it's been published. 

Thursday 15 September 2011

Christ to Coke Party

An amazing party / dinner at my house for people from Oxford University Press to thank them for their excellent work on Christ to Coke. The catering was provided by Marcel Wallace, student son of Marina, my collaborator and close friend. He produced little pizzas in the shape of hearts,  an iconic spaghetti dish, melanzane alla parmigiana in form of the Stars and Stripes, hand-made cornetti and liquid tiramasu. We served Pugliese wine that had been decanted into Coke bottles (well sterilised!).

11th September 2 and acronyms

It seemed not right to raise this issue in the main blog on the tragic events.
However, we have come to accept tacitly the lazy and crude shorthand, 9.11. In any case, the logical order is 11.9.2001, ie. date-month-year. But why not "September"?

I have been corresponding about the New Yorker Festival in which I am to appear on 1st October, and have been setting up a meeting for 9.30 on 9.30! Ugh.

 We now use such shorthand to achieve 4 things:
1. the comfortable feeling that we are in the know;
2. the sense that we belong to a group with similar knowledge;
3. the exclusion of people who do not possess the insider knowledge;
4. the sense of brusque efficiency, not least in terms of IT.

Acronyms and all jargon serve these functions.
When I was first on the Scottish Museums Council, I could not understand the minutes, since they were densely pock-marked by acronyms. I asked if the secretariat could provide a glossary of acronyms. At the next meeting I asked where it was. There was some uneasy shifting - they said they were working on it. At the next meeting the glossary was produced. There were over 200, many generated by the world of education. Someone who knew and used the acronyms was demonstrably part of the club. May of the acronyms seemed highly contrived. The name had clearly been rigged, often ponderously, to make a "good" acronym.  Let's have the courtesy to use the clearest explanatory or generally understood name of an entity.

I am the founder and at present the sole member of SAC.
This is, of course, the Society for the Abolition of Acronyms.

11th September 1 or "9.11"

I remember standing in Broad Street, outside Trinity College in Oxford, with a cluster of sad people, marking the silence that was called to mourn the victims of the Word Trade Centre destruction. America had much of the world on its side at that moment. There is no clearer signal of the surrendering of this sympathy than the image of Bush, Obama and their wives with their hands on their hearts behind a very evident bullet-proof screen during the Washington ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe. US embassies around the world are now ringed by mediaeval fortifications. Is this how to defend the freedoms of their self-proclained "free world?".


At this early stage, it seems right  lay down some basics.
In an civilised society, everyone should have equal access to:
education, with no-one predestined to receive inferior education because of economic or social status;
health case, with no-one predestined to receive inferior care because of economic or social status;
the law, with no-one predestined to receive inferior legal support because of economic or social status;
secure and adequate housing;
adequate food of a healthy and nourishing kind.
The fact that no society is even within touching distance of even one of these basics is a melancholy commentary on the societies to which we subscribe.

Friday 9 September 2011

in the beginning

This is the first.
To mark the publication of my book Christ to Coke. How Images Becomes Icon (Oxford University Press in October), I am starting a blog - something I have been intended to do for years.  There is not set agenda, just opinions, some rational,  some instinctive.
Something social/political to start.
Re the riots in English cities (not Scotland). It is widely said that there is a "class" of young person detached from normal society.  As someone who lives in that "normal" society, whatever that may mean, I feel more detached from the mega-rich, the financiers and chief executives whose wealth remorselessly increases independently of the worth of their contribution. Just being there is enough if you are big enough, powerful enough. Just being there for the "rioters" was also enough - enough to slip further into a morass of hopelessness.