The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
The bottom half of this painting by the German artist A.R. Penck is largely taken up by the silhouette of a nude woman painted in green and blue paint. On her body a few simple signs and a head have been painted in black. From her feet, Penck painted a sort of chain of signs, also in black, which stretches from the bottom-left to the top-right corner of the painting. In addition, spread over the entire canvas there are strokes of yellow and red paint. The text “ROMA AETERNA ODER ERLEUCHTUNG des TORQUATO TASSO”, and the signature “RALF” can be seen at the bottom right.
From 1961 Penck developed a sign language which was related both to prehistoric rock paintings and to contemporary pictograms. He considered art as a means of communication and aimed for an iconography which could be understood by a broad general public. He created images to draw the viewer’s attention to the truth and the reality he lived in. Up to 1980 Penck lived in the former East Germany, where the freedom of the individual was greatly restricted, both politically and artistically. He was already in contact then with the West German painters, Immendorf and Baselitz, and in 1980 he defected to the west.
His work is sometimes classified as Neo-Expressionism. The painting 'Torquato Tasso' can be seen as a plea for freedom and liberty. Torquato Tasso was a 16th-century writer/poet and in his epic tale “Gerusalemme liberata” he wrote the history of the First Crusade. The German poet Goethe devoted a play to Tasso in which the protagonist is the artist who comes into conflict with society because of his own wilfulness. Penck’s fear was that the freedom of human existence was threatened by uncontrollable systems, and he combated this with images. His works are direct expressions of his thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the message can be understood directly, but sometimes more prior knowledge is required. A work such as 'Torquato Tasso' not only expresses the story behind it. The way in which it is painted – semi-figurative and semi-abstract – in bright colours and with strong movements, can be seen as a scream for freedom.
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