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This revelatory publication provides a comprehensive and multifaceted account of Cy Twombly s masterpiece Fifty Days at Iliam, a series of ten paintings based on Alexander Pope s th century translation of Homer s Iliad Essays by a team of both art historians and scholars of Greco Roman studies explore topics including the paintings literary and cultural references to antiquity and Twombly s broader engagement with the theme of the Trojan War, which first appeared in his work in the early s and was a subject to which he would return throughout his career Firsthand accounts of the artist at work complement the essays Images of the canvases and related drawings and sculptures are joined by previously unpublished photographs showing Fifty Days at Iliam in the artist s studio at the time of their completion Very poor photography really disappointing. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has published this book dedicated solely to this monumental work in its collection, on the 30th anniversary of its accession.In form the book resembles the now ubiquitous Schirmer Mosel publications of the Twombly Foundation, but focuses solely on the Museum s pieces, their acquisition and display The paintings reproductions are very large, sharp, perhaps the best available of these pieces.Reproductions of photographs from the Bassano studio by Annabelle d Huart, are also included Now widely seen, these photos greatly enhance the perception of Twombly s working method as synonymous with the photographer s point of view that all of Twombly s work is one big installation, as she reveals in her interview with Carlos Basualdo.What one must confront in viewing Cy Twombly s work personally, or through descriptions of other observers and writers, is a persistent effect of viewing through a fracture of one s own attention.It is difficult enough, if not self defeating, to find value in the fact that we can no state for a fact whether a Trojan War ever took place, let alone whether it bore any relation to the conflict described in the Iliad, that we can form a confident picture of Homer All we have, as T.S Elliot said in a different poetic context, are hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses Peter Green, 2005 Some of the directions of this broken glass mirror become potentially destructive A good artist is not going to insist on giving the viewer a literal everything you need to see to understand its purpose These works are not spectacles Only gratuitous artists movie makers offer spectacle, to audiences only too eager to receive it, while being unaware that an opportunity to have any take away has been stolen from them by this dictation On the other hand, we cannot avoid noticing Twombly s attachment to Pope s text, especially the conflation of Pope s literary values and Twombly s aesthetic goals.When studying Twombly, however, viewers cannot become subsumed into the point of view of any one of the commentaries Multiple voices are helpful once in a while you actually see something that you missed, while at other times it seems as if the direction of thought is taking you away from the actual work into a private discipline.Twombly s paintings do not, as implied in some places, represent a new example of History Painting, an occupation of thematic painting in the history of Western culture patronized by religious leaders, absolutist regimes of wealth with associated academies, and new Nationalists with their languages of latter times, to memorialize their own interests.It is also important at some point to set aside Twombly s life long occupation with the classics as a part of his adopted life in Italy While he revels in his occupations with Pope s text, I state emphatically that these paintings are not, cannot be objects of exultation.Even Picasso s Guernica had no specific knowledge of the spoils of the coming war, though it did echo Picasso s countryman, Goya, whose own graphic war imagery wasn t even printed until 40 years after the artist s death.But did those latter viewers in receipt of Goya inherit any reckoning of the upcoming century of two world engulfing wars No Have they since received any understanding of Goya s message of women fighting to their death to establish representative government that establishes their rights No, not yet.Pope s influence on Twombly is covered in detail in this book, as well as in Mary Jacobus s book Reading Cy Twombly What is missing here, and in Jacobus, is an actual point of view Jacobus marshals literary criticism of the Pastoral tradition, but nothing.Simone Weil wrote in La Source Greque Greek history began with an atrocious crime the destruction of Troy Far from deriving glory for itself from this crime as nations ordinarily do, the Greeks were haunted by the memory of it that is by remorse From this they derived a sense of human misery There is no picture of human destitution pure, bitter, and poignant than the Iliad The contemplation of human misery in its truth implies a very high spirituality Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, Routledge,1957, 2005, p.74 5 Weil s celebrated essay on the Iliad, one that demands presence if only because it addresses the Iliad directly Weil s reading of the text and her excerpts in the essay expose a conscience in Homer Twombly may not have had access to Weil s text More importantly, he did not seek in literary critique of a point of view beyond Pope a critique which today is increasingly normalized by its own pursuits.From the essayists From Carlos Basualdo, Curator of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art In Fifty Days the only possible form of inscription is violence Twombly characterizes the language of battle, as that of desire, as ruthless impulse to suppress anything beyond it Paradoxically it is that same violence that ultimately condemns the inscription to its disappearance Twombly s paintings, considered in the arrangement he initially foresaw, are much less the illustration of a simple story line than a visual consideration of the deepest implications of the violence contained in the sheer act of naming and its inherent desire to memorialize To inscribe is to carve out, even to make bleed, to inflict pain In Fifty Days it is names themselves that battle for their own survival What Twombly narrates is desire itself in its inevitable violence In light of this The Shield of Achilles acquires a renewed centrality It is a mesmerizing spiral of entangled blue and black lines that seem to both hide and reveal a kernel of throbbing red The unraveling form is suspended on an unstable white sea of marks erased The Shield is a potent sign of the endless circularity of the narrative that it presides over From Richard Fletcher Three Lessons at Twombly s Academy The artist encourages us to ground our engagement with antiquity in a catalytic freedom, rejecting the idea of a single, stable reference This idea finds expression in his series of imaginary portraits, not only in Fifty Days at Iliam but in other works as well This freedom has far reaching consequences for the academic classicist speaking for himself as it disturbs and challenges the authority of the individual scholar and the order of an authorized canon It is no coincidence that the lessons at Twombly s Academy imaginary portraits, disrupted text, being present to the artist resonate with the anecdotes of Plato s Academy a version of Plato s Academy, minus Plato, that presents us with expansive and emancipatory pedagogy that aligns less with the well worn image of the elitist patriarch There is no mistaking the aristocratic air that hovers over the legacies of Plato and Twombly, but both left us bodies of work that are open and generous From Emily Greenwood Adapting Homer Via Pope In basing his painting cycle on Pope s translation of the Iliad, Twombly chose an English version of the epic poem that is itself a highly self conscious response to the tradition of interpreting, translating, and reimagining Homer Pope s Iliad was germane to Twombly s interest in and affinity for intersemiotic translation and adaption Pope insisted on Homer s visual and spatial imagination and Twombly has taken quest from this way of reading the poem, marrying Pope s with his own interest in the abstract and diagrammatic representation of warfare Twombly draws upon Pope s interest in narrative design and structural ironies of the plot The fire that rages across Twombly s canvases is metapoetic in Pope s commentary on the Iliad, Achilles is fiery and Homer is fire, and Pope tries to capture this in his translation The blazing Shield of Achilles is the first canvas in Twombly s cycle, and Achilles recurs in the panels as a fiery red mass, suggesting that Twombly is paying homage to Pope s view of fire as a leitmotif in Homer s poem Matthew Arnold 1860 Homer invariably composes with his eye , on the object, whether the object is a moral or material one Pope composes with his eye on his style, with which he translates his object, whatever it is From Nicola del Roscio, concerning the house and its activities during the creation Poor Cy It took him two summers and great pain, struggle, and suffering to start and complete the cycle of Fifty Days at IliamHe would listen to very loud music over and over again,maniacally, as if trying to catch the start of a thread had lost That music was the most wonderful taped songs of a Persian singer who sounded like a nightingale, causing great astonishment in his listeners Not only was his voice clear like a bird or a whistle, but one had the impression that he sang from the top of a tree into space or from space toward you The tragic singer had just died the year before of cancer of the larynx, making the whole theme of the disappearing soul of the Achaeans and the Trojans that Cy was looking for emotional, regretful, or desperate Some outside voices chosen by me for relevancy to Twombly s time of creation, and to the present day From Joan Didion, W.B Yeats poem, The Second Coming, 1920 as an epigraph to Slouching Toward Bethlehem, 1968 Turning and turning in the widening gyreThe falcon cannot hear the falconer Things fall apart the center cannot hold Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhereThe ceremony of innocence is drowned The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity but now I knowThat twenty centuries of stony sleepWere vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born From Mary Jacobus, III Shades of Perpetual Night quotes Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace 1795 States do not plead their case before a tribunal war alone is their way of bringing suit But by war and its favorable issue in victory, right is not decided From James Holoka s translation of Simone Weil s THE ILIAD OR THE POEM OF FORCE Because the Homeric epics have been part of the furnishings of so many educated minds through the ages, the study of the readers responses to the poems is a fascinating exercise in intellectual history Clarke 1981 Some have seen the world presented by the Greek poet as primitive, barbaric, and quite alien from our own Nietzche, writing of the Greeks tigerish lust to annihilate, asked Why did the whole Greek world exult over the combat scenes of the Iliad I fear that we do not understand them in a sufficiently Greek manner indeed that we should shudder if we were ever to understand them in Greek Kaufmann 1954 Gilbert Murray thought that even those barbarities on display in the epic had been toned down and reduced by expurgation Murray 1934 As is the case with most masterpieces of literature, however, many readers have found in Homer a spirit contemporary with themselves The foreignness between Homer and ourselves, apparent chiefly in external forms, shrinks away in the face of the obvious constants taken together.Were Homer really foreign to us, then our present world could hardly be recognized in him so consistently Latacz 1996 From Simone Weil 63 The thoughtlessness of those that wield force with no regard for men or things they believe they have at their mercy, the hopelessness that impels the soldier to devastate, the crushing of the enslaved and the defeated, the massacres, all these things make up a picture of unrelieved horror Force is its sole hero A tedious gloom would ensue were there not scattered here and there some moments of illumination fleeting and sublime moments when men possess a soul The soul thus roused for and instant, soon to be lost in the empire of force, wakes innocent and unmarred no ambiguous, complex, or anxious feeling appears in it courage and love alone have a place there, Sometimes man discovers his soul during self deliberation, when he tries, like Hector before Troy, to confront his fate all alone, unaided by gods or men Other moments when men discover their souls are moments of love hardly any form of pure love among men is missing from the Iliad 67 Marital love, doomed to unhappiness, is of surprising purity The spouse, in evoking the disgraces of slavery that await his beloved wife, omits that one the mere thought of which would blot their tenderness Nothing is so frank as the words his wife addresses to a man about to die.It would be better for me,having lost you , to be under the earth I will have noother succor, when you have met your destiny,only griefs From Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others 2003, adapted from war photography To speak of reality as a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell s flames Still it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one s sense of how much suffering caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned even incredulous when confronted with evidence of what humans with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hand s on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood The dead are supremely uninterested in the living in those that took their lives in witnesses and in us Why should they seek our gaze What would they have to say to us We this we is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through don t understand We don t get it We truly can t imagine what it was like We can t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is and how normal it becomes Can t understand, can t imagine That s what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels And they are right. Twombly s work bypasses the mind and goes straight to the heart No detours No pit stops.