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Delft in woodcuts

In December 1938 Escher received a government commission to create ten woodcuts of the city of Delft, for a book publication. In return, Escher would receive 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. In the end, the book was never published, but he did produce the woodcuts. Since this series is the only one he made about a Dutch city, the outcome is rather special.

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, drawing suitable woodcut locations: Oostpoort, Oude and Nieuwe Kerk (churches), Town Hall, Markt (marketplace). He did so from the street but sometimes he climbed to even higher positions to get a better vantage point. The director of the Municipal Works gave him the rare and exceptional permission to ascend the tower of the Oude Kerk. Based on these drawings, Escher would create the woodcuts back home in Ukkel (Belgium) during the summer.

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

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

[*] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 257-258

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