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An illustration of houses with the sun shining down upon them

An Illustration for Each of Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'


Every Wednesday, three illustrators upload a new image of the wonderful and exquisitely visual work The Invisible Cities.

“A zodiac of the mind’s phantasm” is how Italo Calvino summed up his wonderful prose poem Invisible Cities. His book is, in a nutshell, a reminder of those muted maps and fantastical territories that, back when Marco Polo was writing his Book of the Marvels of the World, the West imagined with its eyes open. And being such an exquisitely visual and suggestive book, it was about time that a group of illustrators used it as the starting point to produce those cities that all those who know them carry as ghosts.

An illustration of clouds with ladders reaching down to the ground

Determined to rise to the challenge of illustrating the book, the artists Matt Kish, Leighton Connor and Joe Kuth began the project in April 2014. Their Tumblr page, Seeing Calvino, is updated every Wednesday with a new interpretation of the many strange cities of the novel. And, as Marco Polo stated, each city is different, not only one from the other, but even different from itself; a city is different from what is said of it, or from a memory of it, and it is different depending on whether one arrives to it by land or by sea. The cities of this project will therefore never be the cities of Marco Polo, or those that the sultan imagined with his descriptions, nor those that each reader imagined through the narrative; they are rather an unfolding of all the above and, as far as we know, could be renewed an infinite number of times every Wednesday. Because a city, as Calvino said, is the “desire for a city.”

An illustration of multiple laundry lines with clothes strung between two cliffs.

Seeing Calvino is more spot-on than it would appear: in our world, the city is the great unknown. Calvino’s question was what are cities to us, what has lead humankind to live in cities, and that is exactly what Marco Polo, and in this case the illustrators, are trying to answer. So far they have drawn 45 of the 56 cities in the novel. Perhaps in the future we will see an edition of the book that includes their illustrations.

An illustration of a city street maps


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