Rome: From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly

Agostino Carrache_Série de têtes caricaturalesFrom 3rd March to 22 May 2022, the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici presents a special exhibition: Scribbling and Doodling. From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly, conceived by two curators Francesca Alberti (Villa Medici) and Diane Bodart (Columbia University), along with Philippe-Alain Michaud as associate curator (Centre Pompidou).
The exhibition will have two complementary presentations, both autonomous and unique,one in Rome, and the other in Paris: the first will be at the Villa Medici, from 3rd March until 22 May 2022, the second at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, from 19th October 2022 to 15th January 2023.
Through a collection of almost 300 original works dating from the Renaissance to the modern era, the two presentations of the exhibition will shed light on one of the most unconventional and overlooked aspects of the practice of drawing. By exploring the multiple features of the practice of scribbling and doodling, from sketches scribbled on the backs of canvases to expansive doodles conceived as artworks in themselves, the exhibition unveils how these experimental, transgressive, regressive or liberating graphic gestures, which appear to flout all laws and conventions, have punctuated the history of artistic creation.
The Renaissance period, in order to escape the constraints of Drawing (il Disegno) that what would later be referred to as “academic” , produced free-flowing, instinctive and gestural graphic forms that may recall the rudimentary drawings of children, the wandering calligraphy found at the margin of manuscripts or the graffiti scrawled by unknown hands on city walls. Picasso had the habit of saying, regarding children: “it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them”; Michelangelo had already amused himself by imitating the stick-like figures scrawled on the façades of Florentine homes. The exhibition thus explores this hidden side of artistic creation, by inviting visitors to shift their view toward the back of paintings or on the walls of artists’ studios, to look at the margins or the verso of drawings sheets or beneath detached fresco decorations…
By displaying works by masters from the early modern period – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Titian, Bernini, etc. – next to those of major modern and contemporary artists – Picasso, Dubuffet, Henri Michaux, Helen Levitt, Cy Twombly, Basquiat, Luigi Pericle, and many others – the exhibition reconsiders chronological classifications and traditional categories of art history (such as margin and centre, official and non-official, classic and contemporary, artwork and document) and places the practice of scribbling at the heart of artistic making.
Born from a research project undertaken by the two curators, this exhibition (co-produced with the Beaux-Arts in Paris) is the result of internationally coordinated effort. It has been made possible through the support of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, as well as a partnership with Rome’s Istituto Centrale per la Grafica, a national Italian institution dedicated to graphic arts.
Scribbling and Doodling. From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly exhibition has been loaned many remarkable artworks from some of the most prestigious Italian and European institutions, including: the 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, and others.
Both the exhibitions in Rome and in Paris will offer a unique and yet unseen selection of artworks, as well as an original display. The Rome exhibition will present almost 150 works, across six thematic sections designed to create a dialogue between renaissance and contemporary artworks:
1. In the shadow of the workshop
A profusion of stunning drawings and graphic indulgences, most of which are unknown lie hidden on the back of panels and canvases of the most celebrated Renaissance masters, on the margins or versos of their drawing sheets, beneath detached frescoes. The exhibition gathers and unveils this hidden aspect of artistic creation.
2. Drawing at play
Drawing is at play during moments of relaxation and recreation when artists allow themselves free experimentations and develop a “scribbled style.” Such “controlled regression” underlies the development of caricature which will become an artistic form in its own right.
3. Untidy compositions
Componimento inculto: this oxymoron, conceived by Leonardo da Vinci, refers to quick, crude and rudimentary sketches used to bring out the figure, its movements and attitudes. The drawing sheets of the masters are filled with wanderings and crossing-outs that become as illegible as stains capable of generating potential images.
4. The Childhood of art
With his Portrait of a Child with a Drawing, Giovanni Francesco Caroto inaugurates a series of paintings that play upon the inherent and often ironic mise en abyme of infantile drawing. In these artworks, fleeting and apparently insignificant scribbles, acquire a new and elevated status, introducing a theoretical reflection on the birth of art and creative impulse.
5. Childishness
In the early twentieth century, European avant-gardes while seeking primitive spontaneity looked at children’s drawings in order to regenerate their art through a newfound vitality. On the one hand, the motif of the stick-figure and the grotesque Ubu character, and on the other, the instinctive and spiralling scribbles, serve as a source of inspiration to be broken down and reinterpreted.
6. The call of the wall
Graphic impulse is attracted by smooth plaster just as much as by old walls that present potential forms asking to be completed. The wall’s temporal sedimentation fascinates modern artists who seek a repertoire of shapes and symbols in their unevenness and the inscriptions drawn upon them.

In Rome venue there will be some exceptional exhibits: the extraordinary palimpsest of drawings sketched on the back of Giovanni Bellini’s Triptych of the Madonna, lent by the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, that the public will have the opportunity to view for the first time, along with drawings by Titian, Pontormo, Fra Bartolomeo, Michelangelo, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Simone Cantarini, as well as the works of Carracci and Bernini. Also featured is a grotesque head by Leonardo da Vinci, loaned for the occasion by the Beaux-Arts de Paris, as well as the school notebook of Delacroix belonging to the National Institute of Art history in Paris (INHA).
Several artworks, featured in both venues, will underscore the link between the Rome and the Paris exhibitions, such as the studio walls of Mino da Fiesole and Giacometti studios; the Portrait of Child with a Drawing by Giovanni Francesco Caroto; photographs by Brassaï and Helen Levitt, as well as several iconic works by Cy Twombly, Asger Jorn, the Cobra group, Luigi Pericle, and other modern masters such as Giacomo Balla.