Through inscription or dedication, Twombly often invokes the sister arts of literature and music, and the subtle presence of language is integral to much of his sculptural practice. Of the many luminaries that appear through name or phrase, perhaps none is more important than Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), the lyric poet of the German language. There is a felicitous symmetry in Twombly's incorporation of Rilke's elegiac prose, given the role of art in the poet's work. Twombly's Orpheus (Thou unending trace) draws its title phrase from a verse of Sonnets to Orpheus, Rilke's 1922 homage to his mythological forebear. The songs of Orpheus, the progenitor of poetry and music, could impel stones and trees to move, and his "unending trace" is the lyric art that lives on despite his death at the hands of the maenads.
Rilke himself is memorialized in Twombly's art by a sequence of works from 1985 that include an apparent altar, Untitled (above). Though partly veiled by Twombly's ubiquitous white paint, its crimson inscription, "Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair," makes clear its relationship to an important five-part painting of that title. The pigment Twombly uses for the dedication and the plastic petal is the red of blood as much as of roses--appropriate given Rilke's use of the rose as emblematic of love and sensuality, but also of death. The poet's epitaph,"Rose, oh sheer contradiction, / Delight of being, no one's sleep under so many / Lids," surmounts the largest of the five painted panels. Fragments of verse from the early nineteenth-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and the thirteenth-century Persian mystic Rumi are borne aloft by the other four. The final panel of this work is inscribed with lines from a Rumi verse, "In drawing and drawing / you his pains are / delectable his flames / are like water." Here, as in many of Twombly's later canvases, paint drips and cascades--like Rumi's elements--from lush, nearly sculptural clouds of pigment.
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC