Lot 33
  • 33

Cy Twombly

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
2,285,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled (The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal)
  • initialed CT, numbered 2/3 and inscribed Gerbrüder Jäger, Pfäffikon SZ
  • bronze
  • Sculpture: 41  1/2  x 20  7/8  x  20  7/8  inches
    Base: 32  1/2  x 2/  3/4  x 28  3/4  inches
Edition 2 of 3


Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich (acquired from the artist)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cy Twombly: Eight Sculptures, 2009, pp. 19, 22 and 52, illustrated in color (edition no. 3/3) and pp. 20-21, illustrated in color (detail)

Catalogue Note

As with other astounding examples of Cy Twombly’s diverse and prodigious oeuvre, the title or, more specifically, parenthesized sub-title, of this sublime sculpture immediately evokes the ancient history, mythology and legend that were so famously his abiding sources of inspiration. The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal references the ancient Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, considered the last powerful king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire before its demise in the Seventh Century BC. The cultural achievements of Ashurbanipal were considerable: it is recorded that he could read the cuneiform script in ancient languages Akkadian and Sumerian, which was a rare skill among kings, and that he was able to solve mathematical problems. In 1853 archaeologists discovered The Library of Ashurbanipal in the lost ancient city of Nineveh, which was the capital of Assyria and is today located in modern Iraq. Ashurbanipal was renowned for his fixation with history and, aside from plundering resources of knowledge belonging to his enemies during bloody military campaigns, he also dispatched scribes and scholars to every part of his empire to collect and transcribe ancient texts. The discovered Library contained over 30,000 clay tablets, which have provided exhaustive insight into Mesopotamian and Babylonian literary, religious and administrative history. The tablets include treatises on mathematics, medicine, astronomy and literature; omens, incantations, and hymns; and epics and myths such as the Enûma Eliš creation story, the myth of Adapa the first man, and the legendary Epic of Gilgamesh. The distance between the sheer multiplicity of human knowledge, understanding, and curiosity recorded in this Library and the realities of life in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which would today be appalling and barbaric beyond measure, presents a staggering paradox. It is endlessly fascinating that almost 3000 years ago human beings felt a compulsive need to record what they knew and experienced by painstakingly inscribing thousands of clay tablets, and through such processes grappled to understand what must have been absurd and totally inexplicable phenomena of life and death and existence on earth.

Cy Twombly’s breathtakingly serene sculpture Untitled (The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal) was cast in early 2009 from an assemblage comprised of wood, nails, staples, plastic, paper, plaster, white paint and fiber pen. He had photographed this form ten years earlier in dramatic sepia chiaroscuro, a stark account of the effusive outpouring of semi-liquid plaster seeming almost to overburden the underlying architectonic structure. Twombly first made casts in resin in 1977, and occasionally began to cast in bronze from 1979 and used plaster as a sculptural medium from the 1980s: in the present example we are confronted with all the subtleties of transition from the eclectic assemblage to the final bronze cast. As Kate Nesin has insightfully detailed, “any cast is invested with a backward-facing temporality, the melancholy of the indexical. The earliest known decorative bronzes are from ancient burial sites in Iran’s Zagros Mountains, and the antiquity of this reproductive mode appeals to Twombly. His bronzes often look dug from the earth (though whitened or tawny, rather than green)… grave, confidentially monumental, sometimes glinting and sometimes glowering with the simultaneous light and weight of metal from beneath their patinas.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cy Twombly: Eight Sculptures, 2009, p. 5) Twombly’s sublime abstract bronze communes many histories, fixed forever within its complex, stunning surfaces. It speaks of Twombly’s assemblage and the brilliant economy of his abstract vision; it speaks of his life-long pioneering interrogation of the space between what is seen, what is perceived and what is felt; and it speaks of Ashurbanipal and his ancient tablets, similarly standing as metaphor for a life’s work and as testament to all that has been learned.