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Fifty Days at Iliam: Heroes of the Ilians

Cy Twombly, American, 1928 - 2011

Geography:
Made in Italy, Europe

Date:
1978

Medium:
Oil, oil crayon, and graphite on canvas

Dimensions:
6 feet 3 1/2 inches × 59 inches (191.8 × 149.9 cm)

Copyright:
© Cy Twombly Foundation

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

* Gallery 176, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Alter Gallery)

Accession Number:
1989-90-10

Credit Line:
Gift (by exchange) of Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, 1989

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    In the summer of 1977, Cy Twombly began working on a “painting in ten parts” based on Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, the tragic story of the final fifty days of the Trojan War. Completed in 1978 and collectively titled Fifty Days at Iliam, Twombly’s canvases, permanently installed in one of the Museum’s galleries, evoke incidents from the epic poem in the artist’s characteristic synthesis of gestural handwriting and diagrammatic depictions. Using the visual language he had started to develop more than twenty years earlier, he created his own tribute to a canonical narrative of Western culture.

    Twombly stipulated the spatial configuration of the ten large canvases in a presentation that is sequential as well as thematically logical. In the artist’s own words, the use of the letter a in “Iliam” (instead of the Latin “Ilium” or the Greek “Ilion”) has an indexical function, referring to Achilles. The emblematic painting Shield of Achilles—referencing the miraculous armor made for the Greek warrior by the gods, with energy forces drawn from the four corners of the universe—is displayed by itself in an antechamber. Nine paintings in the adjoining gallery present the chronological unfolding of the story. The artist designed the installation so one wall features paintings of a predominantly Greek mood, passionate and aggressive, while the canvases on the facing wall convey an essentially Trojan attitude, contemplative and melancholic. The series progresses from the scene of Achilles’s pivotal decision to join the fight against Troy to an almost blank canvas imbued with the silence of death and oblivion. Presiding over the gallery from the far wall is the monumental Shades of Achilles, Patroclus, and Hector, an elegiac salute to the three fallen heroes of the war. Carlos Basualdo, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 382–383.

  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Cy Twombly has chosen to spend much of his life in Italy and to ground his art in the history of Western culture rather than the imagery of contemporary America. In Fifty Days at Iliam, Twombly addressed a defining work of classical literature: Homer's Iliad, the epic recitation of the final fifty days of the Trojan War, probably written before 700 B.C. Undertaking a project of unprecedented scope in his work, Twombly created his own interpretation of Homer's narrative in a monumental ten-part painting. He relied on the sensuous visual language he had developed over the past twenty-five years, full of scrawling marks, clumps of paint straight from the tube, drips, erasures, and legible numbers and letters. His vocabulary ranges from lushly erotic organic shapes to hieroglyphics of nearly invisible subtlety.

    Twombly stipulated the spatial configuration of the ten large canvases in a presentation that was sequential as well as logical thematically. An antechamber contains the emblematic painting Shield of Achilles, the armor made for the Greek warrior by the gods, with energy forces drawn from the four corners of the universe. Nine paintings in the adjoining gallery present the chronological unfolding of the story, progressing from the scene of Achilles pivotal decision to join the fight against Troy (Iliam) to an almost blank canvas imbued with the silence of death. Twombly designed the installation so that the four paintings on one side of the room present a predominantly Greek mood, passionate and explosive, while the four across from them embody the Trojan character, contemplative and cool. Presiding over the gallery from the far wall is the monumental Shades of Achilles, Patroclus, and Hector, an elegiac salute to the three fallen heroes of the war. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 133.


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