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The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat [Paperback]

Martin. Kemp
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 20.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

9 April 1992
In this illustrated book, Martin Kemp examines the major optically oriented examples of artistic theory and practice, from Brunelleschi's invention of perspective and its exploitation by Leonardo and Duerer to the beginnings of photography. In a discussion of colour theory, Kemp traces two main traditions of colour science - the Aristotelian tradition of primary colours and Newton's prismatic theory that influenced Runge, Turner and Seurat. His book provides information for all those interested in the interaction between science and art.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (9 April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300052413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300052411
  • Product Dimensions: 28.1 x 25.4 x 3.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 186,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Linear perspective is a beguilingly simple means for the construction of an effective space in painting. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From then till now 30 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating and scholarly review of the development of perspective with reference to optics and other technological changes.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For reference. 26 Nov 2012
By kingcon
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent for reference and developing your technique in particular mediums. Not the sort of book to sit down and read in one go.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At long last a scientific approach to art history. 5 April 2000
By jmors@monumental.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's amazing what happens when a scientist studies art history. This is a historical perspective on color theory, camera obscura and perspective. It relates the work of indvidual artists to the advances in science.
The refreshing thing is that Kemp realizes that artists who used perspective were not slaves of science, and an artist such as Turner actually realized that the main item of interest in a scene perceptually appears larger than mathematics would dictate.
My favorite story is how it was considered obvious that there were 5 primary colors because Christ had 5 stigmata, but when Newton proved there were 3 primaries, that was obvious because of the Trinity.
This book is certainly not an easy, but the knowledge gained should forever change the way you look at art.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an eye opening book 1 Jan 2003
By drollere - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i had the experience of being flooded with light and clarity when i first opened and browsed this book. my enthusiasm is in part because of kemp's extraordinary scholarship and detailed command of paintings and art publications across the entire span of western art. but it's also because the story of artistic imaging over the past six centuries is woven around the european romance with linear perspective, which has become so discredited and disliked by artists that it qualifies as a repressed memory. (like any buried memory, perspective surfaces in the dreamlike digital animations of intergalactic science fiction and first person computer games, which take perspective effects to the ultimate level of technical accuracy and artistic triviality.) kemp unearths those repressed perspective memories and shows how vital they were to the development of art and the connections between art and the wider culture of the times.
it is jaw droppingly fun to see how intensive, sophisticated and singleminded was the artistic interest in optical and perceptual issues of seeing. everyone will find special surprises here, but mine include kemp's spatial analysis of velazquez's "las meninas," and the extraordinary drawings and engravings produced c.1800, which force us to realize that we are already looking at "photo graphs," light drawings created by hand, at a time when film photography was not yet practical. there is a large section on various optical devices utilized in visual arts, including the camera obscura and camera lucida, and an excellent section on the evolving understanding and use of color, from the renaissance to seurat.
poignant for me was the victorian fascination with light as a spiritual quality, which comes through in turner's paintings and ruskin's amazing perspectival studies of "clouds" -- images that verge on op art. the intelligence and strength of these images reveal a road left untraveled in art, which turned toward the perceptually driven styles of impressionism and fauvism instead. as a bonus to the many interesting visual exhibits, the writing is lucid, sensible and alert. an invaluable publication.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING! 27 Jun 2009
By K. Bustillos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book has so much information its mind boggling. There are a lot of books that touch on the subjects of science and art and how they interact, but I haven't found another book that even comes close to the wealth of information this book has! It give detailed descriptions on different equasions and diagrams to go with them. Along with giving the history of who and why such innovations where so welcome and needed. Its just an amazing book! A must for anyone interested in indepth composition.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For Professional Reference 11 Feb 2010
By Michael Gunther - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Martin Kemp's book is actually two unrelated volumes in one. The first 2/3 of the book is a history of perspective technique, and the last 1/3 is a history of color technique, from the Renaissance to the Early Modern period of Western painting. The book is very technical (in the art-historical, not in the scientific, sense) and dry. This is a narrative history, and does not approach color theory or geometric perspective from any scientific reference point. My neutral rating of it (three stars) is a compromise between a two-star rating for the general reader and a possible four stars for the specialist reader.

General readers/practicing artists: "The Science of Art," as mentioned above, develops these specialized areas of art history in a narrowly technical way. This book will not help you to use or analyse perspective and color effects, whether in your own work or in other works that you might see in museums.

Art-history professionals: Kemp's book does provide a lot of information for those who are engaged with these subdivisions of art history on a professional basis. The author's approach is narrative/historical throughout, with very little theory or analysis. These factors make it most suitable for larger reference libraries.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Marriage of Science and Art 17 Mar 2014
By E. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In "The Science of Art", Martin Kemp (an emeritus professor of history of art at University of Oxford who is considered one of the world's leading experts on the art of Leonardo da Vinci and visualization in art and science) details the use of geometrical science of perspective and physical science of color in painting within the time period 1400-1800. In this time, the central goal of artists and theorists was the imitation of nature based on scientific principles. This book is academic and dry as well as beautiful and complex.

I was already quite familiar with perspective, as I finished The Painter's Secret Geometry recently, so I skimmed until section two on mechanical devises. Christopher Wren's perspective machine, the Claude glass, and Pierre Edouard Frer's Zograscope fascinated me. Although it felt a bit out of place, section three is interesting for its examination of color before and after Newton.

This is an important book that will endure because its makes us aware in a new way of the continuity, complexity, and ultimately the beauty of the European ideals that have linked art and science since the Renaissance and given Western culture its unique place in history. Next up for me is: The Painter's Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art - two people in my art class recommended it!
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