Scribbling and Doodling. From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly

Exhibition in two parts:

  • at Villa Medici in Rome from 3rd March to 22nd May 2022
  • at the Beaux-Arts in Paris from February 8 to 30 April 2023 → Read more

Exhibition designed and organised by the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici and by the Beaux-Arts in Paris
With the support of the National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Paris
In partnership with the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica, Rome

Francesca Alberti, Director of the Department of Art History at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici, Professor of Art History at the University of Tours, CESR

Diane Bodart, Professor of Art History at Columbia University

Associate curator:

Philippe-Alain Michaud, Art Historian and Curator at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou, Paris

Associate curator for the Beaux-Arts in Paris:

Anne-Marie Garcia, Curator and responsible for the collections at the Beaux-Arts in Paris

Curator for partner institute:

Giorgio Marini, Art Historian, Curator designated by the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica, Rome

From 3rd March to 22 May 2022, the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici has presented 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 has two complementary presentations, both autonomous and unique, one in Rome, and the other in Paris: the first has been held at Villa Medici, from 3rd March until 22 May 2022, the second is at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, from 8th February to 30th April 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.

In Rome venue there has been 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, 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.


The exhibition at Villa Medici has been accompanied by a series of conferences (free access upon reservation). Invited by the curators, six researchers – art historians, philosophers, anthropologists and museum curators – will share their knowledge of the practice of scribbling from the perspective of their own field of research.


© Gilles Raynaldy

Francesca Alberti is the Director of the Department of Art History at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici, as well as professor of Art History at the University of Tours and the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance. Her research focuses on the visual culture of the first modern era in art, as well as art theory, and the practice and culture of laughter in the Early Modern period. She is the author of La Peinture facétieuse: Du rire sacré de Corrège aux fables burlesques de Tintoret (Paris, 2016) and co-editor of two volumes: Rire en images à la Renaissance (Turnhout, 2018) and Penser l’étrangeté, L’histoire de l’art de la Renaissance italienne entre bizarrerie, extravagance et singularité (Rennes, 2012). Francesca Alberti was a Fellow at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici (2014-2015), Fulbright visiting scholar at Columbia University (2016), grant holder of the Centre Allemand d’histoire de l’art à Paris (2013), as well as a member of the research council for the Fontainebleau Festival of Art History (2016 and 2021) and the Rendez-vous de l’Histoire in Blois (2020).

© Gilles Raynaldy

Diane Bodart is David Rosand Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance Art History at Columbia University. She was educated in Art History at the University La Sapienza in Rome and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. The recipient of fellowships from the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici, the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte in Paris, and the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti) in Florence, she was teaching at the University of Poitiers before moving to Columbia. Her research focuses on the arts theory and practice in Italy and in the territories of imperial Spain in the early modern period. She is the author of Tiziano e Federico II Gonzaga (Rome, 1998) and Pouvoirs du portrait sous les Habsbourg d’Espagne (Paris, 2011), and has co-edited François Lemée. Traité des statues (Weimar, 2012); Rire en images à la Renaissance (Turnhout, 2018); Wearing Images (2018); Le grand âge et ses œuvres ultimes (Rennes, 2020).


Philippe-Alain Michaud is curator at the National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou – in charge of the film collection – and professor of History and Theory of cinema at the University of Geneva. He is the author of Aby Warburg et l’image en mouvement (Macula, 1998), Le peuple des images (Desclée de Brouwer, 2004), Sur le Film (Macula, 2016), Âmes primitives. Figures de film, de peluche et de papier (Macula, 2019) and has written numerous articles on the relationship between film and visual arts. He has also curated several exhibitions, including: Comme le rêve le dessin (Musée du Louvre/Centre Pompidou, 2004), Le mouvement des images (Centre Pompidou, 2006), Nuits électriques (Museum of Photography, Moscow and Laboral Art Centre, Gijon, 2007), Tapis volants (Villa Medici, Rome and Les Abattoirs, Toulouse, 2010), Images sans fin, Brancusi photographie, film (Centre Pompidou, 2012, with Quentin Bajac and Clément Chéroux), Beat Generation (Centre Pompidou, 2016), L’œil extatique: Sergueï Eisenstein à la croisée des arts (Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2019).

From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly
→ 3rd March –  22nd May 2022, French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici
→ 8th February – 30th April 2023, Beaux-Arts de Paris

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