Humphrey Ocean (RA) and Phillip King (RA) – Leonardo’s “Paragone” and Contemporary Art 

Chair: Ben Thomas (University of Kent Canterbury)

Leonardo da Vinci argued that ‘the sculptor undertakes his work with greater bodily exertion than the painter’ and that sculpture is ‘an extremely mechanical operation, generally accompanied by great sweat which mingles with dust and becomes converted into mud. His face becomes powdered all over with marble dust, which makes him look like a baker’. By contrast, the painter is a cultured intellectual wearing fine cloths and painting to the accompaniment of music and poetry recitals. Partly made for comic effect in a courtly setting, Leonardo’s arguments for the superiority of painting over sculpture – the so-called Paragone debates – are at the heart of his conception of the visual arts as noble because they required a theoretical understanding of nature. A deeper reading of Leonardo’s arguments reveals his profound interest in sculptural problems such as lighting and view-point, and an awareness that pictorial challenges like creating the appearance of relief on a flat surface (‘rilievo’) requires a knowledge of sculptural form. To what extent are these questions and concerns relevant to the practice of the visual arts today? Leading contemporary painter Humphrey Ocean and sculptor Phillip King will reprise Leonardo’s arguments, relating them to their own practice.

This event is kindly supported by The Italian Cultural Institute in London, the official Italian governmental body dedicated to promoting Italian language and culture in England and Wales. Part of a series of events marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, organised by the Italian Cultural Institute, the Warburg Institute, the University of Kent, and the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory at the Institute of Modern Languages Research.

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