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Cy Twombly's Work Lepanto, Created for the Venice Biennal in 2001, on View at the Museo del Prado
Cy Twombly, Lepanto XI. Wax on canvas, 216.2 x 335.9 cm. 2001. Udo und Anette Brandhorst Stiftung.

MADRID.- The presentation this summer of Cy Twombly’s work Lepanto at the Museo del Prado aims to establish a dialogue with the Museum’s historical collections through the artist’s updating of the traditional genres of battle paintings and historical episodes so well represented in the Prado’s collection. In addition, it will set up a link between Twombly’s work, which was specifically created for Venice, and the monumentality and sensuality of the narrative paintings by the 16th-century Venetian masters, whose work constitutes the backbone of the Prado’s holdings.

For the 2001 Venice Biennal, the American artist Cy Twombly (born Lexington, Virginia, 1928) produced the series entitled Lepanto: a single work consisting of 12 large-format canvases that looks back to one of the most important naval battles of early modern history. Lepanto will be shown for the last time in public in Room C of the Jerónimos Building in the Museo del Prado prior to its permanent installation in the Brandhorst Museum in Munich this autumn.

In the year 2001, Harald Szeemann commissioned Cy Twombly to make a work that would be relevant to the Plateau of Humankind exhibition organized by the Venice Biennale, melancholic farewell of modernity in the threshold between two centuries. For this exceptional event, the American painter created a large narrative cycle dedicated to the famous naval battle that took place, in the Gulf of Lepanto on the 7th of October 1571, between the Ottoman Turks and the so-called “Holy League”, a Christian coalition formed by Spain, Venice and the Papacy.

Beyond its historical significance as an allied victory over Turkish expansionism, the Battle of Lepanto became a fascinating subject for visual narration by contemporary artists supported by the winners: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Cambiaso, among others. An important number of these artistic consequences of Lepanto arrived in Spain. In fact, Twombly first became interested in this subject thanks to depictions of the naval battle represented in tapestries based on paintings made for Philip II by Luca Cambiaso and now at the Escorial.

The presence of Lepanto in Spain, specifically at the Museo del Prado, updates the historical importance of large narrative cycles of paintings, especially the series of battles that forma fundamental core of the Royal Collection. At the same time, Twombly’s extraordinary frieze introduces a new link into that fabulous sequence of the “Venetian tradition”, majestically embodied at the Prado since the early Hapsburg’s relationship with Titian and now reaches our time with unbroken continuity.

In fact, the intersection of historical and artistic narratives is one of the special attractions of the Prado’s present encounter with Lepanto. When historical events become distant in time, the details become less clear and are often lost in the heat of the pictorial battle. History becomes blurred, taking on a different value, a different reading. Such is the ironic distance with which Velázquez approaches the subject in his Buffoon known as “Don Juan de Austria” (c. 1632) which now, more than ever, can be seen as an essential entr’acte in art’s own specific passage through this particular event in European history.

Among the American artists who first came to prominence in the late 1950s, as the great juggernaut of Abstract Expressionism was waning, Cy Twombly (Lexington, Virginia 1928) remained closest to the earlier generation´s belief in the primacy of the gesture, developing an inimitable handwriting that became the essence of his painting along with the use of the word evoking mythological figures and events as an inherent compositional element and the gradual incorporation of color.

Cy Twombly trained at the Art Students League in New York, where he met Rauschenberg, and at the Black Mountain College, where fellow pupils included John Cage, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Twombly is one of the most important creative figures to have emerged in America in the decade of the 1950s and one of the most internationally renowned contemporary artists.

Raised in Lexington, sanctuary of the American Civil War and the Virginia Military Institute, Twombly has always shown an interest for military and nautical subjects and their codification. Insatiable traveller and connoisseur of the Mediterranean, his fascination for the classical world led him to establish himself in Italy in 1957, where he resides most of the year. This will be the series’ last exhibition before it is definitively installed at the Brandhorst Museum in Munich.

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