Memento mori: this old Latin phrase reminds people that we will all die some day. This saying is the gloomy subject of the simple yet direct woodcut of Julie de Graag (1877-1924). De Graag was a talented graphic artist and her work was highly stylised. Influenced by sculptor Joseph Mendes da Costa and De Stijl’s Bart van der Leck, she increasingly omitted details, as her linework grew simpler and more direct.
The term homo universalis, meaning universal man, aka polymath, was coined in the Renaissance by the writer, philosopher and musician Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). Leonardo da Vinci is often seen as the quintessential polymath. In his case, this referred to his mastery of the complete spectrum of sciences. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-332 BC) is considered to be the first homo universalis. The term is at times applied incorrectly, but Richard Roland Holst (1868-1938) definitely qualifies. In the database of the RKD, the Netherlands Institute for Art History, he is described as an author, sculptor, scene-painter, Academy director, etcher, glass painter, professor, illustrator, lithographer, furniture designer, designer, painter, draftsman, maker of woodcuts and muralist. A universal man of the arts, in other words.
The tradition of portraiture goes back centuries. An entire room is devoted to this subject in the exhibition Graphic Grandeur: Escher and his Contemporaries. You are not the only one looking here in this gallery. Lots of eyes are looking back at you, too: from Beethoven to a stylised dog, and from Escher’s wife Jetta to a Dutch General with one eye. As soon as the exhibition opens to the public (hopefully as soon as possible!), you can look and be seen here.
Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita was a gifted artist, painter and printmaker with an idiosyncratic signature who occupies a special place in the canon of art. But above all he is the discoverer of M.C. Escher, the man who made the architecture student choose the profession that would make him world-famous. The sorcerer's apprentice was to outshine his discoverer and things slowly grew quieter around De Mesquita. On 31 January 1944 he was arrested by the Nazis. He died shortly afterwards in Auschwitz concentration camp. Escher was devastated and the death of his teacher made a deep impression on him. Nowadays the name of Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita is often directly linked to that of Escher, but there is still plenty to say about the teacher.
With Belvedere, Waterfall and Ascending and Descending, M.C. Escher created three iconic prints based on impossible figures: a cube, a triangle and a staircase. He invented the one for Belvedere himself, but the impossible triangle and the infinite staircase were presented to him by the British mathematicians Lionel and Roger Penrose. These figures were just thought experiments for Penrose Senior and Penrose Junior. But there was someone who had been obsessed with them all his life: Oscar Reutersvärd. This Swedish artist and art historian, who can be regarded as the archetypal father of the impossible figure, passed away on 2 February 2002.
Between March and June 1931, Escher created his Emblemata, a series of small woodcuts that were accompanied by a motto in Latin and a poem in Dutch. The mottoes and poems were written by art historian G.J. Hoogewerff, director of the Dutch Historical Institute in Rome and a friend to Escher. One of those prints is Retreat. It features a birdhouse, hanging from a tree.
2020 has passed. A year no one will ever forget. But even in this crazy year, we brought you many stories about the life and work of M.C. Escher. All the images we used are collected in this video.
We thank everyone for your attention this year and onwards to a hopeful 2021!
Contacts had been established earlier that year, but in December 1957 it was officially ratified: by order of Utrecht City Council, Escher was allowed to make a mural for the auditorium of the reception building of Tolsteeg cemetery. In the autumn, he was approached by the municipal council to make a design. The reception building had very recently been renovated and the municipal authorities thought there was room for some aesthetic improvement too. The advisory committee for Visual Arts and Applied Sciences decided to delegate the task to the graphic artist M.C. Escher. He welcomed the assignment and set straight to work.
On his journeys through untouched parts of Italy in the spring and summer, enjoying himself was not Escher’s only aim. These hikes were also very much geared towards preparing for prints that they might inspire. During his travels, he took numerous photos which he pasted into a photo album, adding a note about them in his diary. They are memories of a beautiful journey, but in many of those photos, you can also recognise the landscapes that would go on to feature in his work. In the spring of 1930, Escher made a journey through the region of Calabria that proved very fertile. The tour took in such as Palizzi, Morano, Pentedatillo, Stilo, Scilla, Tropea, Santa Severina, Rocca Imperiale, and Rossano and yielded no less than 13 prints.
9 November 1778 saw the death of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Italian artist and architect regarded as the greatest graphic artist of his time. His fame was primarily due to his Vedute di Roma, a series of etchings with impressive views of the ruins and monuments of Rome. But above all it is Piranesi's famous fantasy prints about prisons, the Carceri d'Invenzione, that continue to appeal to the imagination so much to this day. Escher was a great admirer. When he moved to the Swiss town of Château-d'Oex in 1935, he hung a number of prints by Piranesi in his studio. As if he wanted to keep the memory of his old home town alive. The main thing these two artists have in common is their staggering imagination.