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Albert Bosman and Bruno Ernst

Today is the start of ‘Boekenweek’ (Book Week), a nice occasion to highlight a phenomenon that is increasingly rare: a bookplate. Escher created several of them, mostly for friends. The first one dates from when he was only 17, for his own library.

The one you see here, from 1946, was for his opposite neighbour in Baarn, engineer Albert Ernst Bosman. Escher depicts an open book with the words ‘neti neti tat’, a spiritual expression about questioning one’s identity on the journey towards enlightenment, symbolised here by an inchworm rising out of the page. In this context, the inchworm also refers to a bookworm: the book lover for whom this bookplate was made. He did not know it yet, but this neighbour would be of great significance to him. Bosman was the one to bring him into contact with Hans de Rijk, the man of many pseudonyms.

Escher met him as Friar Erich, a member of the congregation of Saint Louis in Oudenbosch. This Erich was fascinated by the print Up and Down, which hung on the wall of his classroom. He knew Albert Bosman, the man who brought artist and admirer together. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. Under the name Bruno Ernst, Friar Erich taught maths at the academy for teachers, where he also founded the mathematics magazine Pythagoras. After they met in August 1956, they saw each other often, De Rijk always introducing himself as Friar Erich. It took Escher several months to find out his real name. Escher was captivated by this young man (he was 30), as the latter, being a teacher, was capable of explaining complex mathematical issues in a simple way. One print after another was discussed during these meetings and the sketches were included as well to get a complete picture.

Hans de Rijk (1966). Ron Kroon (ANEFO) - Cropped from GaHetNa (Nationaal Archief NL)
The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher, Bruno Ernst

Much later, in 1970-1971, the two would adopt a much more systematic approach. Over a period of two years and in weekly meetings, Escher’s entire oeuvre was analysed, De Rijk asking the artist about his intentions for each print. In 1976 this very fruitful exchange of ideas would lead to the much praised standard work The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher.
Bookplate M.C. Escher, linoleum cut in green, 1917
Bookplate Heleen van Thienen, linoleum cut, 1917

More Escher today