by Philip F. Palmedo. Abbeville Press, November 2020. 192 p. ill. ISBN 9780789213785 (h/c), $40.00.

Reviewed May 2021
Andrea Walton, MA/MLS, krw1@nyu.edu

palmedoThe beautiful and dramatic point of entry to this book begins immediately with the cover, illustrated by split images of a thirteenth-century circular window in the north transept of Notre Dame de Paris and the twenty-first century circular particle detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Switzerland. Pairing the medieval stained-glass window with the largest, costliest machine in existence astutely supports the author’s main theme that, “The intersection of art, technology, outpouring of creativity and learning, gave rise to exquisite objects that were at once beautiful works of art and technological wonders.”

Author Dr. Philip F. Palmedo studied art history and physics and holds a PhD in nuclear engineering. He followed professional and personal activities in both fields, notably as a research scientist and the writer of several art books. This book reflects not only the progression of Palmedo’s career but his earlier books on contemporary American sculptors and modern sculpture of the past 100 years.

Science, technology and art have always been intimately connected, from a flint hand ax a half a million years old to the optical revolution Brunelleschi heralded; the fifteenth-century printing press Albrecht Dürer mastered to nineteenth-century chemistry announcing a new era of photography; and the technologies of artificial intelligence changing the way art is made and experienced in our own time. In the second chapter, Palmedo offers evidence that an approximately 50,000-year-old small stone resembling a bird, collected and modified by a Neanderthal to look more natural, as well as cave paintings, point directly to both the origins of science and origins of art which began with “careful curiosity” about nature. These same influences inspire today’s scientists and artists.

Eight abundantly illustrated chapters with more than 100 color images printed on glossy paper follow the preface. Included at the back of the book are conclusions, two appendices, acknowledgments, notes, a selected bibliography, and an index.

Aesthetic sensibility coupled with symmetry and balance reflect the basic qualities of scientific instinct. Throughout the book, Dr. Palmedo extends his thesis that these are not only essential qualities to be found in both nature and science but in art as well. Like any scientist, he proves his ideas with clarity, expanding ideas about artists and scientists as indistinguishable in their accomplishments. It is a fascinating and worthy addition to the bookshelves of art and science libraries.

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