Please note that Nicola Del Roscio has kindly confrimed the authenticity of this work.
‘To encounter the past is to put into question the present. This sense of awe and perplexity at overlaid tenses and times and encountering places only previously known in the imagination…offered for Twombly a palimpsest of past, present and future; layered, intertwined and interpenetrating each other like archaeological strata’ (N. Cullinan, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2008, p. 74).
Delicate pencil lines move like wordless writing across the creamy pale monochromatic surface of Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome), 1964, raveling into a lyrical abstraction that is punctuated by bold knots of crimson and orange crayon marks. Created during a decade of great professional triumph, this work pulses with a passionate immediacy and exquisite dynamism that is unique to Twombly’s graphic practice. Exquisitely articulating the artist’s emotional and intellectual response to the Eternal City, we are reminded of the incidental scratches and graffiti that have adorned the walls and streets of Rome since Classical time and that uniquely Mediterranean hazy sunlight. Twombly’s magnificently fluid and meandering touch is evocative of both a deeply felt emotion towards his surroundings and an existential response to the timeless, mythical landscape of antiquity. ‘The inimitable art of Twombly’, Roland Barthes once observed, ‘consists of having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (scratches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance. [He evokes a] whole life of forms, colors, and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea’ (R. Barthes, in Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1979, p. 16).
Though reminiscent of the language of Abstract Expressionism and surrealist automatism, Twombly’s graphic fields of energy are remarkable syntheses of both emotion and intellect. Twombly’s first encounter with Rome, which ultimately resulted in his moving to the city permanently in 1957, was a profound one that reinforced his understanding of the artificiality of the concept of time as a linear progression from past to future. Developing a profound interest in the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Twombly was deeply intrigued by the essential contemporaneous nature of all experience and explore white paper as the blank conceptual field in which space and time, thought and image coalesces. Inspired by his trip to Greece in the summer of 1964, the same year the present work was created, Twombly here specifically evokes ancient Greek mythology. Continuing the incessant free association between drawing and language, Twombly inscribes into the surface numerous textual fragments that gracefully dance across the surface. Whilst intended to be virtually indecipherable, the scribbles around the central square-shaped structure identify themselves as ‘Aoede’, ‘Melete’ and ‘Mneme’ – the names of the three original muses in Ancient Greek mythology representing song, contemplation and memory. According to Roman writer Varro, a sculptor of Sicyon was ordered to create three sculptures of the three muses for the temple of Apollo. Mistaking the instructions, he made a total of nine sculptures, which, however, were found so beautiful that from that time on they began to henceforth establish the Nine Olympian Muses. Seen in this light, the central structure in Untitled (Rome) begins to resemble a temple, while the abstracted charcoal loops may be read as the sculptures that stand before it in the ancient legend. ‘The past is (my) source’, Twombly once explained, but, ‘all art is vitally contemporary… generally speaking my art has evolved out of interest in symbols abstracted, but nevertheless humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time’ (C. Twombly, quoted in K. Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p. 14). A timeless image, Untitled (Rome) evokes an utterly irresistible aesthetic of grandeur that at once synthesises past and present, emotion and intellect within the unmediated impulse of action.