M.C. Escher

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M. C. Escher, Self-Portrait (1929)

Relevant examples from Escher's work:


Escher's Life


Maurits Cornelis Escher (June 17 1898 – March 27 1972), usually referred to as M. C. Escher, was a Dutch graphic artist known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

Maurits Cornelis, or Mauk as he came to be nicknamed, was born in Leeuwarden (Friesland), the Netherlands. He was the youngest son of civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second wife, Sara Gleichman. In 1903, the family moved to Arnhem where he took carpentry and piano lessons until he was thirteen years old.

From 1903 until 1918 he attended primary and secondary school. Though he excelled at drawing, his grades were generally poor, and he was required to repeat the course twice. Here is Escher speaking (in Dutch) about his experiences at secondary school in Arnhem

In 1919, Escher attended the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts to study architecture. One of his teachers was Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, a Jew with Portuguese ancestors. As Escher describes in this interview, de Mesquita was influential in Escher's decision to abandon architecture and become a graphic artist. After leaving school, Escher remained very good friends with his teacher until de Mesquita was killed by Nazis during World War II.

In 1922, a crucial year in his life, Escher traveled through Italy (Florence, San Gimignano, Volterra, Siena) and Spain (Madrid, Toledo, Granada). He was impressed by the Italian countryside and by the Alhambra, a fourteenth-century Moorish castle in Granada, Spain. He came back to Italy regularly in the following years. It was in Italy that he first met Jetta Umiker, the woman whom he married in 1924. The young couple settled down in Rome and stayed there until 1935, when the political climate under Mussolini became unbearable. The family next moved to Château-d'Œx, Switzerland where they remained for two years.

Escher, who had been very fond of and inspired by the landscape in Italy, was decidedly unhappy in Switzerland, so in 1937, the family moved again, to Ukkel, a small town near Brussels, Belgium. World War II forced them to move for the last time in January 1941, this time to Baarn, the Netherlands, where Escher lived until 1970.

On April 30 1955, Escher was awarded a Knighthood of the Order of Orange-Nassau.

Most of Escher's better-known pictures date from this period. The sometimes cloudy, cold, wet weather of the Netherlands allowed him to focus intently on his works, and only during 1962, when he endured surgery, was there a time when no new images were created.

Escher moved to the Rosa-Spier house in Laren in 1970, a retirement home for artists where he could have a studio of his own. He died at the home on March 27 1972, at 73 years of age.

Overview of Escher's Work

After his student days, Escher's early works were often landscapes based on his travels, especially in southern Italy. Castrovalva (1930) is a typical lithograph from this period:


Even later in his career, when his prints were drawn more from his imagination than from real scenery, the setting and architecture of southern Italy play a role in his imagery, as Escher discusses in this interview

Escher's mathematical bent is already apparent in the 1935 woodcut Inside St. Peter's, which shows an extreme perspective and careful attention to pattern and symmetry.


In the late 1930's, Escher "came to the open gate, the open gate of mathematics" [2], and began to explore tessellations and create prints based on his work. Two famous examples from this period are Day and Night (1938) and Reptiles (1943):

Day and night.jpg Reptiles.jpg

Not all of Escher's art was mathematical, for example the print Eye, was produced in 1946 following World War II:


Eye is a Mezzotint, made by a painstaking process of roughening a metal plate and then smoothing areas to define the image. this video shows Escher working on the metal plate for Eye.

In many of Escher's best known works, the print is deceptive. Some question the viewer's assumption that art represents reality (Drawing Hands, 1948). Many of these present "impossible" scenes, such as Ascending and Descending, 1960.

Drawing-hands.jpg Ascending-descending.jpg

A major theme in much of Escher's work is infinity. For example, Escher's tessellation artworks give a suggestion of the infinite, that the interlocking motifs could continue in all directions for eternity. He applied a wide variety of mathematical and artistic techniques to capture infinity on the printed page. From 1963, Möbius Strip II (Red Ants) is shown along with Escher's final print, Snakes (1969).

Mobius-strip-II.jpg Snakes.jpg

Related Sites


  1. Material in this section taken from wikipedia:M._C._Escher
  2. Visions of Symmetry, pg. 21