The Dutch artist M.C.Escher (1898-1972) is well known for his meticulous geometric and ‘impossible’ prints, his optical distortions, his extreme viewpoints and his tessellated patterns which seem to move from two to three dimensions. His early work is perhaps less known and includes some beautiful perspectives inspired by Italian and Corsican mountain villages.
Escher first visited Italy with his parents in 1921 and returned many times. His two early woodcut views of San Gimignano dating from 1922 and 1923 both highlight the dramatic potential of the view of the town with the first one incorporating a lush organic foreground and the second having a dominant architectural geometry. The Bridge from 1930 takes a more extreme perspective, drawn from a vantage point above the steep peaks on which nestle two villages overlooking a valley. The South Italian Landscape of 1929 and the view of Castrovalva from 1930 further develop his interest in perspective. In Castrovalva, the eye is drawn along a steep mountain path with dramatic views of a village above and one below. The gorgeous Ravello and the coast of Amalfi (1931) combines an aerial perspective with the gentle curves of the Amalfi coast.
Escher and his wife Jetta visited Corsica in 1928 and travelled around the island where he was able to sketch many views, some of which were later worked up into prints. The village of Bonifacio, vertiginously perched on an eroded cliff in the far south of the island, was an ideal subject and Escher renders the view simply and cleanly allowing the wildness of the location to speak for itself.
Escher’s pencil drawing Corte, Corsica (1928) offers a more intimate view of the bridge and entrance to Corsica’s old capital seen from above.
In Pineta de Calvi (1933), the coastal town and citadel are seen through an almost silhouetted pine forest ‘screen’ in the foreground. In this case, Escher doesn’t use aerial perspective to enhance the view. Instead, we seem to be approaching the bay through a dark forest which frames the architecture of the town.
Escher’s wood engraving of a view of Calvi’s waterfront seen from its citadel (1933) uses the contrast of growing darkness and lengthening shadow with the white of the fortifications to add to the spectacle to the viewpoint.
We can see in these early works the germ of many of Escher’s lifelong preoccupations; with geometry, architecture and perspective. It seems that his visit to Corsica helped him develop his eye for dramatic points of view as well as meticulous detail. However, these wonderful works stand on their own merits as an artistic response to the beauty of the Corsican landscape, both natural and built.
“You have to retain a sense of wonder, that’s what it’s all about” M.C.Escher.
More on Corsica:
Sebald in Corsica (December 2015)
Edward Lear in Corsica (August 2015)
Paoli in London (March 2015)
Conrad in Corsica (August 2014)
Seneca in Corsica (August 2014)
Village wisdom: Corsican proverbs and sayings (August 2014)
Poem: Corsica (July 2015)