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Escher in Medieval Siena

Maurits Cornelis Escher visited Italy for the first time in 1922. The master of perspective and transformation, whose trade mark was to create deceptive images by making his subjects one with their backgrounds, arrived from his home town of Haarlem with two friends on the traditional Grand Tour. The three young artists, Escher, Jan van der Does de Willebois and Bas Kist, were all pupils at the well-established School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where they were apprenticed under Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, who introduced them to the art of woodcutting. The itinerary of their Tour was linked mainly to the ‘old masters’ who were so popular back home. Their work served as a model for the remarkable paintings of Jan Verkade (the subject of a magnificent portrait by Giovanni Papini), who, in his turn, had studied with Gauguin before taking orders and retiring to a monastery. The Tour left Escher with an indelible impression of Siena, and San Gimignano in particular. His prints of these cityscapes show the extent to which the artist was engaged by the unexpected verticality of the architecture and the city’s surprising chiaroscuro, both of which represented such a marked...