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Delft in woodcuts

In December 1938 Escher received a government commission to create 10 woodcuts for a booklet on Delft. For the not insubstantial sum of 800 guilders (about €7,500 now). The commission was inspired by a series he created in 1934, called Nocturnal Rome. The booklet was never published, but he did produce the woodcuts. The result is special because it is the only series he made about a Dutch city.

M.C. Escher, Delft: Grote Markt (Marketplace seen from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, woodcut, May 1939.
M.C. Escher, Delft: Town Hall, woodcut, July 1939

Using his parents’ home in The Hague as a base, he travelled to Delft by tram day after day in April 1939. He walked through the city and did drawings of suitable locations for a woodcut: Oostpoort, Oude and Nieuwe Kerk (churches), Town Hall, Grote Markt (marketplace). He did so from the street, but also climbed to higher elevations to get a better vantage point. The director of the Municipal Works gave him permission to ascend the tower of the Oude Kerk, which was a very rare thing. During the summer months he created the woodcuts back home in Ukkel (Belgium), basing these on his drawings. The last of the 10 was finished in August.

Two of them are shown here: the ‘Grote Markt’ (marketplace) seen from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk and the Town Hall. The latter is a Renaissance style building on the Markt across from the Nieuwe Kerk dating back to 1619-20. Escher depicts it from the south. The rear facade is partly scaffolded, probably due to the restoration that took place between 1934 and 1939.

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