Important Art by M.C. Escher
This image is part of the body of work that Escher produced in Italy from 1923 to 1935. In these he explored depictions of the landscapes, towns, and buildings that he encountered on his extensive travels around the country. Like many of his Italian works, this is a detailed and accurate portrayal but despite the image's realism it maintains an air of fantasy. This drama is heightened by the overall darkness of the image and the strong contrast between these tones and the paler highlights.
Castrovalva also demonstrates Escher's early interest in spatial relationships and his attempts to capture three-dimensionality on paper. The work encompasses a wide field of vision from high to low and near to far and this gives the piece multiple points of focus from the carefully rendered plants in the foreground to the sheer sides of the buildings to the distant mountains silhouetted at the end of the valley. Whilst Castrovalva is approached with realism Escher also created images in this period which were more fantastical such as The Bridge (1930) which incorporates realistic architectural elements into an imaginary framework.
One of the last paintings from his Italian period, this lithograph depicts Escher sitting in his studio in Rome, reflected in a mirrored sphere which is held in one of his hands. Light from the window at the far end of the room highlights the furniture behind Escher and casts a shadow across his face creating depth within the portrait. Some of his other works can be seen framed on the walls of the studio.
The work is representative of his increasing fascination with visual illusions, mirrored reflections, and perceptual self-references. The plain background of the work focuses attention onto the reflection but also causes the viewer to question the accuracy of the depiction, the hand and sphere appear to exist in a void in which only the reflection is real. This enigma is further enhanced by the fact that Escher gazes directly out of the picture instead of representing himself drawing the image. The fact that his face appears directly in the center of the sphere indicates his mastery over the illusion.
This self-portrait forms part of a much older practice of artists painting themselves reflected in convex surfaces with key examples including Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1524) by Parmigianino and Caravaggio's Medusa (1597). In his work Escher is both acknowledging this tradition through his detailed study of his own reflection and subverting it through the depiction of the mechanics of its creation.
This was Escher's most popular print, of which he made over 650 copies during his lifetime. It depicts a flock of birds flying in opposite directions over a rural landscape. The town is mirrored precisely on both sides of the picture but presented in daylight on the left and nighttime on the right. The squares of the fields metamorphize into the birds which then tesselate with each other across the top of the image utilizing the spaces between animals to enable the transition. This complex composition showcases the merging of earth and sky, night and day and different living creatures into one another. The regular chequerboard nature of the fields can be seen as a reference to 17th century Dutch art in which dramatic perspective and black and white tiled floors were prominent features
The birds form part of a wider canon of Escher's work in which animals are either tessellated across the whole image (Escher called this 'regular division of the plane') or one animal becomes another through the use of interlocking designs and negative space. Examples of the former include Lizard (1942) and Regular Division of the Plane (1938); the latter, Sky and Water I (1938). These works were originally motivated by Escher's second visit to the Alhambra, a building which he considered to be "the richest source of inspiration that I have ever tapped". He initially created work utilizing the abstract geometrical elements he saw there, but gradually replaced these with stylized figures of animals, as seen here.
The work can be viewed from two perspectives and the eye naturally moves between the two. The bird's eye view, looking down on the landscape below, contrasts with the direct perspective where the birds are viewed straight on. The two perspectives are linked by the diagonal lines on the fields and on the birds' wings and these give a sense of movement upwards and in the direction of travel of the birds, removing the distinction between foreground and background.