Escher often told me interesting stories about his travels. It is a pity (for me and for you) that I only wrote out some of them to use for the book that I planned. Here is a Castrovalva- story:

In the spring of 1929 Escher went to Castrovalva entirely alone in order to sketch. He arrived rather late in the evening, found a lodging, and went straight to sleep.

At five in the morning he was awakened by a heavy thumping on his bedroom door. Then a shout: Carabinieri ! Whatever could they want with him? He was ordered to go to the police station with them.

A great deal of argument was required in order to persuade the constable to postpone the hearing until seven o' clock. In any case he impounded Escher's passport. When Escher arrived at the police station at seven o 'clock, the inspector was not up yet; and it was almost eight before this official put an appearance.

There was certainly a serious accusation; Escher was suspected of having made an attempt on the life of the king of Italy.

The incident in question had occurred the previous day in Turino - and Escher was a foreigner, he had arrived late at night, and he had taken no part in the procession that had been held in Castrovalva during the evening.

A woman had noted that he had an evil expression ("guardava male") and had reported this to the police. Escher was furious about this crazy story and threatened to make a row about it in Rome, with the fortunate result that he was swiftly set free.

Such a comic event did not keep Escher from staying long in Castrovalva and the surroundings. He made many sketches and one of these grew into the beautiful lithograph Castrovalva, which he completed a year later.

When we looked at it Escher said with some nostalgia in his voice:

"I spent nearly a whole day sitting drawing beside this narrow little mountain path. Up above me there was a school and I enjoyed listening to the clear voices of the children as they sang their songs."

A prominent Dutch art critic wrote about the lithograph Castrovalva in 1931:

"In our judgement the view over Castrovalva can be regarded as the best work Escher has so far produced. Technically it is quite perfect; as the portrayal of nature it is wonderfully exact; yet at the same time there is about it an air of fantasy. This is Castrovalva from without, but even more so it is Castrovalva from within. For the very essence of this unknown place, of this mountain path, these clouds, that horizon, this valley, the essence of the whole composition is an inner synthesis, a synthesis which came into being long before this work of art was made....it is on this imposing page that Castrovalva has been displayed in all its fearsome unity."

For me Castrovalva is also the first choice of the prints of Escher's Italian period. It is not only a beautiful picture of an existing landscape, but it goes far beyond that. It is an expression of the excitement of 3-dimensionality: the near and the far; the high and the low of the world in which we are living is pictured here. Not as abstractions, but in their full reality.

In the time that Escher made Castrovalva he was already accepted as a good graphic artist: Dutch galleries purchased his work and sales to private buyers were also not insignificant. Sometimes the reviews were somewhat negative such as: "These woodcuts display a dogmatic certainty as well as a cool, deliberate matter-of-factness that excludes all spontaneity."

Another review was more positive and more in accordance with what is now the opinion about his work in the Italian period. It ends with this: "Escher is an artist who, after very rapid development, has now reached a high point in graphic techniques, as well as in the synthetic representation of nature, from which it will be difficult to progress any further; he is a completely mature and very individual talent".

In 1935 the political climate in Italy became totally unacceptable to him. When his eldest son, George, was forced, at the age of nine, to wear the Ballila uniform of Fascist Youth in school, the family decided to leave their beloved Italy.

Also the work of Escher changed. The Italian inspiration of towns and landscapes was gone. He was taken with regularity and mathematical structure, with continuity and infinity......themes that haunted him. But his new work was not appreciated by art critics of that time.

One of his most devoted critics thought that he was degraded to applied art. He wrote: "What Escher will give us in the future - and he is still a comparatively young man - cannot be predicted. If I interpret things aright, then he is bound to go beyond these experiments and apply his skill to industrial art, textile design, ceramics etc., to which it is particularly suited."

We now know that he was wrong, entirely wrong! Escher was taking the first steps to become a world famous artist.

- Bruno Ernst. eproduced here with the special permission of Hans deRijk.