ESCHER IN ROME
PALAZZO BONAPARTE, ROME
UNTIL APRIL 1st , 2024
ESCHER IN ROME
An engaging anthology exhibition, with 300 artworks, held at Palazzo Bonaparte, Rome. Until April 1st, 2024.
Escher’s world, made of attractive illusionistic images, based on meticulous mathematic inventions, with specific interest on impossible perspectives, elaborate tessellations, hypnotic metamorphoses, inspired Psychedelic and Pop Art in the 60s, and became a real mania for the rest of the 20th century, inspiring movies, fashion stylists, puzzles, books and albums covers (do you remember Pink Floyd’s ‘Ummagamma’?), furniture, and design objects of any kind. But the artist himself, who never took part in any movement, is little known. Appreciated by mathematicians, and extremely popular, he was ignored by the world of art.
Born in 1898 in the Leeuwarden (The Netherlands) Maurits Cornelis Escher devoted first to architectural studies, was then advised by his teachers to specialize in graphics instead. He had the chance to learn the technique of xylography from Samuel Jessurun the Masquita, who warmly encouraged him to experiment. The exhibit at Palazzo Bonaparte opens with a section dedicated to Escher’s Art Nouveau beginnings.
In 1922, a crucial year for Escher, he went to Italy, visiting Genoa, Siena, San Gimignano, Amalfi, Atrani, Ravello, where he met the wealthy Swiss Jetta Umiker, who he will marry in Italy in 1924. In the same year he visits the Alhambra of Granada (Spain), whose Moorish decorations will be a major source of inspiration.
In 1924 the Eschers settled down in an elegant apartment at Via Poerio 122, Rome, near the Janiculum Hill. Escher describes this period as ‘the happiest years of my life’: he worked in his studio, above the apartment, and loved exploring Rome at night, with a flashlight. During the summer he joined three friends of his in long journeys throughout the countryside of Central and Southern Italy (Abruzzi, Campania, Calabria).
The artist’s love for Rome, the Italian landscape with its ancient, scenic hilltop villages generated splendid graphic works (woodcuts, mezzotints, lithographic prints) focusing on extreme perspectives with strong contrasts of black and white. In 1935 the Echers, with their two children, were forced to leave Italy, where the political climate (under Mussolini) was becoming unsustainable and resided for a year in Switzerland.
A new visit to the Alhambra triggered one of his most successful creations, the TESSELLATIONS, or regular divisions of the plane, repeating the same shapes over and over, with elaborate interlocking designs, without leaving any background space on the surface. The author himself defined tessellation as his ‘mania’.
After a period in Belgium, the Escher family, now with three kids, moved back to the Netherlands in 1941. They chose to live in a small center, Baarns, where the artist will continue his career for the remaining 30 years of his life. The Rome exhibition is enriched by a reconstruction of his studio with original objects.
The visual journey continues with the METAMORPHOSES, a theme Escher started to develop in 1937, and will continue to investigate for the rest of his career: using tessellation as a starting point, the focus is on slow transitions from a given object (a bird, a reptile, a landscape, a geometric form…) into another. An entire wall of the exhibition is devoted to the huge Metamorphosis II (1939-40), printed from 20 blocks.
Another visually powerful section of the exhibition showcases Escher’s investigation on the tridimensional world, where, inspired by the dreamlike yet accurate architectures designed by the Venetian artist Giambattista Piranesi in the 18th century (the Dutch artist certainly saw Piranesi’s celebrated ‘Prisons’ series while in Rome), he gives birth to a number of haunting IMPOSSIBLE CONSTRUCTIONS: upside stairways with human figures eternally ascending and descending, a never ending waterfall: the genius of Escher is inexhaustible! These images, ubiquitous as they are, have steadily become part of our visual vocabulary.
The journey ends with ESCHERMANIA, a section pivoting on the commercial success of Escher’s imagery.
In each of the 8 sectors of the exhibition, visitors are invited to interact, thanks to the use of screens, becoming the subjects of some of the Dutch artist’s world renown creations, such as ‘Hand with Reflecting Sphere’, or ‘Peel’. We wonder how would have Escher’s genius played with 21st century computer graphics, considering the stunning results he achieved just by using traditional handcrafting techniques.