About the Leonardo da Vinci Society
The Leonardo da Vinci Society promotes research and teaching about art and science, with a particular emphasis on Leonardo da Vinci, his world, and influence. We have a diverse membership that reflects the polymathy for which Leonardo is famous. For four decades we have supported interdisciplinary study through a wide range of activities, including an Annual Lecture, conferences, and other events. All are welcome in the Society, so please consider joining us here to take advantage of our Member benefits and to support our work. The Society is a charity registered in England and Wales, governed by a Committee of Trustees, according to its Constitution.
Founded in 1986, the Leonardo da Vinci Society was the brainchild of Dr Kenneth Keele. A cardiologist and physician, Dr Keele was greatly interested in the history of medicine, and became deeply committed to the study of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings in the Royal Library. The Society’s constitution was approved at the first General Meeting on 7 November 1986, its aim being ‘to promote education and research, in particular through the study of the life, work and influence of Leonardo, his intellectual and social milieu, and against the background of his time’. The initial management committee, chaired by Dr Keele, included Professor J.B. Trapp and Sir Ernst Gombrich, respectively Director and former Director of the Warburg Institute, which was staunch in its support for the Society from the outset.
Sadly, Dr Keele died soon after the Society’s launch, on 3 May 1987. He was succeeded as President by Professor Martin Kemp (then at the University of St Andrews), the leading UK Leonardo scholar, who was elected to the committee at the first AGM on 21 May 1987. He stepped down at the AGM on 2 May 1997, when Dr J.V. Field (Birkbeck College, University of London), whose scholarship – like Leonardo’s – straddles the fine arts and the sciences, was elected President, held until 2022.
After the death of Dr Keele’s widow Mary in 2006, their family gave Dr Keele’s fine and extensive Leonardo da Vinci library to the Society, which arranged for it to be accommodated on long loan in the library of the University of York. In 1992 the Society inherited from Professor Patricia Trutty-Coohill her Newsletter for Leonardisti that she had edited for some ten years. The first issue of the Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter was circulated to society members in November 1992. Edited by Dr Francis Ames-Lewis, who continued as editor until 2012, the Newsletter offered readers news of Leonardo-related activities, reports on relevant exhibitions, conferences, symposia and lectures, listings of new publications on or associated with Leonardo, and other relevant material.
The first annual lecture was given at the Wellcome Institute on 21 May 1987 by opthalmologist Professor Robert Weale, who was also a member of the inaugural committee: his title was ‘Leonardo and the Eye’. After a hiatus that followed Dr Keele’s death, Professor Kemp initiated two series of Society events: the Annual Lectures, held usually on the same evenings as the AGMs, and the regular series of one-day symposia on the general theme of ‘Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance’. The first annual lecture in the new series was given in May 1989 by Professor Pietro Marani, then of the Milan Sovrintendenza, on the programme of conservation of the Last Supper mural, in progress at that time. The ‘Art and Science’ symposia, a series launched in 1989 and often arranged in collaboration with the Society for Renaissance Studies, have covered many Leonardo-related subjects, such as light, proportion, botany, technological themes, optics and anatomy, maps and mapping, and music. During its nearly forty years’ existence, the Society has also sponsored, supported or been associated with many other conferences and symposia on aspects of the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci and the cultural and intellectual contexts within which he was active.