During 1960, Twombly's paintings had become denser and denser; an increasing number of them remained Untitled. But in 1962, perhaps as a reflection of the influence of his journey to Egypt at the beginning of the year, a new sparseness and a fresh re-engagement with myth and history emerged in his paintings. Capitoli, executed in Rome in the studio on the Piazza del Biscione that he had acquired the previous year, shows both the eloquent spareness and the interest in his ancient surroundings that was to result in so many of his masterpieces being painted that year, for instance Leda and the Swan, Birth of Venus and Hyperion (to Keats), which is in the Menil Collection. During this period, Twombly was also exploring various themes in sequences of works that shared an umbrella title, as is the case with Capitoli, which shares this name with two other pictures from the same period.
By allowing the white enough space to breathe, Twombly manages to emphasise the various marks of pencil, crayon and oil paint that articulate the canvas. While some of his earlier works had featured an increasingly prominent use of colour, here he has judiciously pared this back, making the few flashes of oil all the more dramatic. These he appears to have applied directly with his hands, as is emphasised by the smeared and dragged areas at the bottom right. This fills the work with a sense of immediacy, while the gesturality itself adds a highly personal dimension. We are witnesses to the artist's touch and intervention.
Alongside these areas of colour are the hallmark scrawls and scribbles so distinctive of Twombly's works. Recalling the ancient graffiti of Pompeii or even of Rome, they introduce a strange sense of timelessness. They are ancient and universal, reflecting Twombly's own perception of the continuing, living history of Europe and in particular of Rome, formerly the hub of Western civilisation. This city, with its still-standing, sometimes still-inhabited monuments, lives alongside its past in a way that enchanted and fascinated the artist, who had grown up in the relatively 'new' United States. Where there, history was popularly conceived of as a matter of a few centuries, Rome is the result of the accretion of thousands of years of culture, of building, of living, of evolution. It was not only the epic themes of the legends of the past that led to Twombly's fascination with Rome, but also the simple fact and the little evidences of the continuation of century upon century of day-to-day living. And nowhere is the humblest proof of that life shown than in the ancient graffiti, which in itself adds such a texture to the past.
But while these marks invoke timelessness in Twombly's canvases, they also evoke the ephemeral, as is emphasised by the use of pencil and the mirage-like effect of these scrawlings against the white background. Some of the pencil marks show words, for instance the title in the top right and the word 'history' placed at the top in the centre. This hints at the viewer being able to find a key to decoding the other marks, but they remain ciphers. Indeed, the presence of genuinely written-out words on the canvas is an act of misdirection that leads the viewer to assume that all might be legible. Yet in fact many of the marks only teeter elusively on the edge of comprehension, as though they are messages that cannot quite be transferred, hinting at the impossibility of true human communication, and therefore at an intense awareness of the burden of subjectivity. It is this highly subjective element of the pencil marks on Capitoli, sharpened by the concurrent use of hand-applied oils, that introduces the most ephemeral aspect-- the artist's own fleeting touch. For these marks are the almost archaeological evidence of Twombly's own movements: "Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate-- it is the sensation of its own realization. The imagery is one of the private or separate indulgencies rather than an abstract totality of visual perception. This is very difficult to describe, but it is an involvement in essence (no matter how private) into a synthesis of feeling, intellect etc. occurring without separation in the impulse of action" (Twombly, quoted in K. Varnedoe (ed.), Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York 1994, p. 27).