Cy Twombly moved from the United States to Italy in 1957, settling in a studio in Rome. The Eternal City, with its ancient Mediterranean culture and atmosphere, provided the perfect locale for the development of Twombly's own poetic sensibilities, and his painting quickly revealed the impact of the change of place. What had been densely packed gestural works influenced by Abstract Expressionists in New York, became open and airy, with a lightness of touch and personal calligraphic style that seemed at once introspective, poetic and sublime.
"One may assume that Twombly's experience of Rome, of its living architectonic and pictorial continuity, and the contact the city offered to painters of the Renaissance, opened up fundamental perceptions which were only to find concrete painterly expression in works from 1960 on, after years of personal reflection" (H. Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Paintings, Frankfurt, 1978, vol. I [1952-1976], p. 39).
For Twombly, the inspiration of classical mythology and allegorical fiction "becomes ideal material for a landscape of myth and metamorphosis that recurs again and again in his paintings and never quite leaves him" (ibid.).
In 1963, Twombly revisited the subject of Leda and the Swan in a series of three very beautiful, intimately scaled paintings.
"The subject of Jupiter assuming the form of a swan to ravish the beautiful Leda has typically been the pretext for titilating images of incongruity, as vain and human appetites confronted amid contrasts of feathers and flesh. Twombly's fantasy of this fateful copulation (from which issued Helen, and thus ultimately the Trojan War) involves instead an orgiastic fusion and confusion of energies, within furiously thrashing overlays of crayon, pencil and ruddy paint. A few recognizable signs--flying hearts, a phallus--spraying of the periphery of this explosion. It is, however, not those energies that were carried forward from this picture; instead it is the drier comment of the marginal "window" rectangle above that indicates the directions--thinning, slowing, and stabilizing--that Twombly's art was beginning to take" (K. Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 37).