Art and Architecture, History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews

Review: Kemp, The Human Animal in Western Art and Science

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Martin Kemp’s soon-to-be-published The Human Animal in Western Art and Science was given a noteworthy review in today’s New York Sun. Praising the book for its exploration of the many fascinating intersections between man and beast in western culture, reviewer Eric Ormsby writes for the Sun:

[The Human Animal in Western Art and Science] is based on the Louise Smith Bross Lectures that Mr. Kemp gave at the Art Institute of Chicago in April 2000 and that he has revised and expanded, supplementing his witty and erudite text with some 185 marvelous illustrations. His theme is “humanized animals and animalized humans” and he ranges widely to explore it. Beginning with a lucid (and rather gruesomely illustrated) discussion of the four humours, which humans and animals were thought to share, Mr. Kemp moves through the centuries. Dürer, Cranach, Da Vinci, and Rembrandt may occupy pride of place, and rightly so, but many fascinating, lesser known figures appear as well. These include the brilliant Charles Le Brun in 17th-century France, whose drawings of human facial expressions from despair to astonishment are one of the marvels of the volume, as well as the half-mad Viennese sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, whose contorted portraits of “manic grins” and the grimaces of “beak-like mouths” fairly leap from the page. In such depictions, humans are animalized and animals humanized, so disturbingly that all our artificial boundaries begin to dissolve.

Read the rest of the review online at the New York Sun website.
The Human Animal in Western Art and Science is currently set to be released this October.