T
is for
Cy Twombly

“I had my freedom, and that was nice.”

— Cy Twombly

The immense blue ceiling, painted by Cy Twombly above the Louvre’s Salle des Bronzes Antiques extends beyond dimension, its vast 344-square-metre surface a true celebration of magnificent colour. Twombly completed the abstract frescoed ceiling in 2010, and today it is considered a milestone of abstract art.

A chromatic expression of something deeply spiritual, the ceiling is embedded with layers of history. It recalls iconic frescoes such as Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in Rome (1536-41) and Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (circa 1350). The ceiling emerges unexpectedly, catching the visitor by surprise amid the traditional, classical architecture of the Louvre. Below, hundreds of ancient, precious objects are grouped in cabinets: bronze medals, golden jewels and marble fragments, pricelessly engraved. Objects that speak of human experience, they highlight the importance of art-making that has characterised us since the dawn of time and encourage a dialogue between present and the past, an established theme in the American artist’s work.

Classical antiquity always fascinated Twombly. Born in Lexington, Virginia, he would spend his final years in Rome in an apartment crammed with classical busts. On the Louvre ceiling, his dialogue with Classicism is heightened by the overlapping golden and silver discs. He also painted fictive marble epigraphs inscribed with the names of the most prominent Hellenistic sculptors: ‘Praxiteles’, ‘Myron’, ‘Phidias’, ‘Polyclitus’.

The technique of painting marble onto plaster – marbling – can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance, a time when perspective had been discovered and artists like Raphael, Polidoro da Caravaggio and Correggio used it to create trompe-l’œil effects. The illusion of realistic imagery existing in space meant that objects painted within the frescoes took on a sculptural existence. Just as these ‘deceive’ the eye of  the beholder and play with illusion, so the Twombly discs and marble epigraphs seem to emerge out of the surface of the paint. Similarly perhaps, his Louvre ceiling emerges out of this tradition to guide visitors on a journey through time: from classical antiquity, through the Renaissance and up to contemporary abstraction.

— Silvia Ricci

Cy Twombly, The Ceiling in Louvre’s Salle des Bronzes Antiques, circa 2010.