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Piano di Sant’Andrea, Genoa

The Piano di Sant’Andrea is an historic site of ancient Genoa situated on top of a hill of the same name. The Piano is surrounded by the towers of the Porta Soprana. In the Middle Ages, this was the most important gateway to the city. At the foot of the towers lies the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Escher visited Genoa and the Piano di Sant’Andrea in the spring of 1936, when he (partly together with his wife Jetta) made a voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, a journey that brought him considerable pleasure, but also much inspiration. He made photos and drawings that he then developed in wood or on stone in the autumn and winter of 1936/1937. This included woodcuts featuring Venice, Ancona, the tower of Pisa and the cargo ship on which they travelled, wood engravings on Catania and Marseille and a lithograph of Nunziata on Sicily. The journey was also a source of inspiration for one of his first optical illusions: Still life and street. In February 1937 he made this woodcut of the Piano di Sant’Andrea.

Just as in such prints as San Michele dei Frisoni and St. Peter’s from the Gianicolo, Escher places natural elements in the foreground and the buildings behind them. He creates a cityscape, but that does not mean that nature must be absent. In this case, he depicted what he saw. There is also a park on Piazza Dante, the square at the foot of Porta Soprana. Hidden in it are the ruins of what was once the cloister of St. Andrew. He made the drawing that formed the basis for the woodcut from the elevated terrace of the post office, diagonally opposite the gate, and had to request permission to gain access to the terrace.

Postcard of the Piazza Dante in Genova around 1930
The ruins of the St. Andrew cloister, 2017

In the diary he kept during the 1936 trip, he wrote:

‘This morning (12 May 1936, EK), we visited Genoa and I found a beautiful subject for a drawing I would like to make on my return trip, when I stay in Genoa for two days: il piano di S. Andrea, located close to the Christopher Columbus house. It would be best to draw from the terrace of the main tower, so once I have returned, I hope to have been granted the access requested by mail by the Adria representative stationed here.’

Travel journal 1936, 26-4 to 28-6, page 12 May
Travel journal 1936, 26-4 to 28-6, page 12 June

Maurits and Jetta then travelled to Spain and returned to Genoa on 10 June 1936. The next day, public life in the city came to a halt due to the Christian Corpus Domini celebration. They watched a long procession of ‘countless congregations, schools, seminars and all kinds of religious associations’. In the afternoon, they took a long walk through the city. Jetta left for home the next day, while Maurits continued on a sea voyage around Italy, only to return to Château-d’Oex on 27 June. His diary entry of 12 June states:

‘..I received permission to make a drawing of the ‘piano di S. Andrea’ from the terrace of the post office, as requested on my behalf by the Adria representative. At 11:50 am, Jetta left to travel via Milan-Domodossola-Montreux to Château-d’Oex, where she will arrive on the last train at 10 am.
After lunch, I went to the post office where, thanks to my permission, I was allowed access to the terrace, where I created a drawing of the beautiful towers, or should I say gates of the piano di S. Andrea. I finished it at half past 6.’

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