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Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo specialist appointed to Oxford Chair

Martin Kemp is the new Professor of Art History with the brief to expand the faculty

Potentially one of the most important teaching positions in the world of art history has been filled: Oxford University's new Professor of Art History is Martin Kemp, since 1981 Professor of the History and Theory of Art at the University of St Andrew's. His researches have concentrated on the relationship between the scientific models of nature and the theory and practice of art. His numerous books include "Leonardo da Vinci: the marvellous works of nature and man", and "The science of art: optical themes in Western art from Brunelleschi to Seurat". He will succeed the incumbent, Francis Haskell, in October, and will be only the third since the post was created, at the chivvying of the influential classicist, Maurice Bowra, for Aby Warburg's librarian, Edgar Wind.

Professor Kemp was appointed by a committee which reflected the areas on which his faculty will impinge. It included, among others, the Regius Professor of History, John Elliott; the independent art historian, Martin Butlin; Brian Ward-Perkins, archaeologist; and historian, A.J. Took of the modern Languages faculty; Christopher White, director of the Ashmolean Museum; and Stephen Farthing of the Ruskin School of Art.

Martin Kemp will preside over a faculty of art history expanded from its present state of a solitary professorship to include three lectureships at a capital cost of £1.1 million each. One, in architectural history, will replace that occupied by Howard Colvin until he retired, but then allowed to fall into abeyance.

The second will be in the decorative arts, and the third in Renaissance art. It is not yet certain whether the university will create an undergraduate course in art history (at present it has only D.Phil. and M.Phil students, and only a handful of those), or will merely expand the present system of allowing undergraduates to take a special subject in art history in their final year.

What is certain is that Professor Kemp will have a leading role to play in the university's scheme to develop a centre for the study of the humanities behind, and in conjunction with, the Ashmolean Museum, for which £9 million of the necessary £25 million have already been raised. The likelihood of this target being achieved is considerable; the Campaign for Oxford, organised by the same fund-raising office, collected £341 million in just six years. In the meanwhile, Professor Kemp has already been to pay his respects to Professor Wind's widow, custodian of much of Edgar Wind's famous iconographical library, and strong supporter of these expansion plans.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 45 February 1995