French Academy at Villa Medici hosts exhibition on doodles, from Leonardo to Cy Twombly

From March 3 to May 22, 2022, an exhibition on...doodles: from Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly is staged at the Academy of France's Villa Medici in Rome.

From March 3 to May 22, 2022, theAcademy of France in Rome - Villa Medici presents a preview of the exhibition-event Gribouillage / Scarabocchio. From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly conceived by the two curators Francesca Alberti (Villa Medici) and Diane Bodart(Columbia University), with the collaboration of Philippe-Alain Michaud, as associate curator(Centre Pompidou). The exhibition is being developed in two successive presentations, both unprecedented and complementary, one in Rome and the other in Paris: the first at Villa Medici from March 3 to May 22, 2022, will be followed by the second at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris from October 19, 2022 to January 15, 2023.

With some 300 original works ranging from the Renaissance to contemporary times, this dual presentation highlights one of the most unknown and least controlled aspects of drawing practice. Addressing the many facets of doodling in the artistic sphere, from the scribbled sketches on the back of paintings to the doodles that become actual artwork, the exhibition shows how these experimental, transgressive, regressive and liberating graphic practices, which seem to obey no rules, have always punctuated the history of artistic creation.

The Renaissance, in order to free itself from the constraints of Drawing later called “academic,” produced free, instinctive and gestural graphic forms that evoke the rudimentary drawings of children, the calligraphic digressions in the margins of manuscripts or even the graffiti of anonymous hands covering the walls of cities. Picasso, speaking precisely of children, said, “It took me a lifetime to draw like them”; but already Michelangelo enjoyed imitating the characters (puppets) clumsily drawn on Florentine facades. The exhibition explores this hidden side of art making and invites visitors to move their gaze to the back of the paintings or the walls of the workshop, to the margin of the drawings or under the detached frescoes....

By proposing unprecedented juxtapositions between the works of the masters of early modernity, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Titian, Bernini..., and those of well-known modern and contemporary artists, Picasso, Dubuffet, Henri Michaux, Helen Levitt, Cy Twombly, Basquiat, Luigi Pericle..., the exhibition questions traditional chronological orders and categories (margin and center, official and unofficial, classical and contemporary, work and document) and places the practice of doodling at the center of artistic practice.

Born out of a research project initiated by the curators, the exhibition, co-produced with the Beaux-Arts in Paris, is the result of a large-scale international coordination effort. It has the support of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and a partnership with the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome.

Gribouillage / Scribble. From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly, has significant loans from prestigious Italian and European institutions, including: Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice; Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples; Biblioteca Reale, Turin; Opera Primaziale Pisana, Pisa; Musée du Louvre, Paris; Staatliche Museen, Berlin; Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, Porto; Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris; Casa Buonarroti, Florence; Archivio Nazionale di Stato, Rome; Musée du Petit Palais, Paris...

The two exhibitions conceived in a complementary way will each offer a selection of works and a reading in an original scenographic key. The Roman exhibition featuring about 150 works is divided into six thematic sections that associate Renaissance and contemporary works:

1. The shadow of the workshop

On the backs of the panels and paintings of the most celebrated Renaissance masters, in the margins and on the verso of their sheets, under detached frescoes, lurks a profusion of surprising and mostly unknown drawings and graphic amusements. The exhibition brings together and reveals this hidden aspect of artistic creation.

2. The game of drawing

The drawing game, which artists engage in during the time set aside for fun and recreation, gives free rein to experimentation and the development of a “scribbled style.” This form of “controlled regression” is one of the premises for the development of caricature as an artistic practice in its own right.

3. Incult composition

Incult composition: this oxymoron used by Leonardo da Vinci indicates those quick, crude and rudimentary sketches used to bring out the figure and find its movements and attitudes. Like writers’ drafts, the drawing sheets of the masters from the Renaissance onward are filled with wanderings and erasures, until they become unreadable as potential image-generating blots.

4. The infancy of art

With his Portrait of a Child with Drawing, Giovanni Francesco Caroto inaugurates a season of paintings that play with the often ironic mise en abyme of childhood drawing. In these paintings, ephemeral, seemingly insignificant scribbles acquire a new status: they become theoretical objects that introduce a reflection on the birth of art and the creative impulse.

5. Puppets

At the beginning of the 20th century, in search of a primitive spontaneity, the European artistic avant-garde found in childlike drawing a way to regenerate art through a new spontaneity and vitality. On the one hand, the rudimentary archetype of the stick-like human figure, known as the “puppet,” and on the other, the gestural drawings of the spirograph child provide artists with a source of inspiration to decline and reinterpret.

6. The lure of the wall

The immaculate perfection of the smooth wall covering invites the graphic gesture to cover its surface, just as the roughness of the crumbling walls invites it to complete the work of time. This language of the walls, made up of temporal sedimentation and traversed by the re-emergence of ancient gestures fascinates the artists of modernity who draw forms and signs from its repertoire, and make the force of the gesture of inscription their own.

The exhibition in Rome exclusively presents some exceptional loans: the extraordinary palimpsest of drawings traced on the back of Giovanni Bellini’s Triptych of the Madonna, preserved at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, which the public will have the opportunity to discover for the first time, as well as well as drawings by Benozzo Gozzoli, Fra Bartolomeo, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Titian, and Taddeo Zuccari, but also works by the Carraci, Simone Cantarini, Algardi, and Bernini from Italy’s most important collections; or Leonardo da Vinci’s grotesque head, on loan from the Beaux-Arts in Paris ; and Delacroix’s notebook preserved at the National Institute of Art History in Paris (INHA).

The link between the two exhibitions in Rome and Paris is structured on a core of works common to the two venues, which includes detached portions of walls from Mino da Fiesole’s workshop or Giacometti’s atelier; Giovanni Francesco Caroto’s Portrait of a Child with Drawing; photographs by Brassaï and Helen Levitt as well as various emblematic works by Cy Twombly, Asger Jorn, the Cobra group, Luigi Pericle and other masters of modernity such as Giacomo Balla.

The exhibition catalog brings together the 300 works exhibited in Rome and Paris and will be published in Italian and French versions by Villa Medici and Beaux-Arts de Paris éditions. This landmark publication on one of the lesser-known aspects of drawing practice offers an extensively documented synthesis of the two exhibitions.

Conceived and introduced by the exhibition’s curators, Francesca Alberti and Diane Bodart, the catalog includes seven chapters and brings together previously unpublished contributions by seventeen authors: Emmanuelle Brugerolles, Baptiste Brun, Angela Cerasuolo, Hugo Daniel, Vincent Debaene, Dario Gamboni, Anne-Marie Garcia, Tim Ingold, Giorgio Marini, Philippe-Alain Michaud, Anne Montfort-Tanguy, Mauro Mussolin, Gabriella Pace, Maria Stavrinaki, Nicola Suthor, Alice Thomine-Berrada, and Barbara Wittmann.

The graphic design is by Mauro Bubbico.

For all information, you can visit the official website of theAcademy of France in Rome - Villa Medici.

Pictured: Asger Jorn, L’Avantgarde se rend pas, série de “Modifications” (1962)

French Academy at Villa Medici hosts exhibition on doodles, from Leonardo to Cy Twombly
French Academy at Villa Medici hosts exhibition on doodles, from Leonardo to Cy Twombly

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