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Möbius Strip I

Escher produced a number of prints based on the concept of the Möbius strip, discovered by the German mathematician and astronomer Ferdinand Möbius (1790-1868).

A Möbius strip is a spatial form which appears impossible but can exist in reality. He explored it in his woodcut Horseman in 1946 and in his wood engraving Swans in 1956. Möbius Strip I (March 1961) is his first fully developed one and features three snakes biting each other’s tails. That is, they appear to be snakes. In his book The Graphic Work of M.C. Escher he states that they are fish:

‘An endless band has been cut through, down its whole length. The two sections have been drawn apart from each other a little, so that a clear space divides them all the way round. Thus the band ought to fall apart into two unattached rings. And yet apparently it consists of one single strip, made up of three fish, each biting the tail of the one in front. They go round twice before reaching their point of departure’.

The animal forms may have a rather ambiguous appearance. However, with this print Escher seems to be referring to the Ourobouros. This name comes from the ancient Greek οὐροβόρος and means tail-eater. This symbol from alchemy is one of the oldest mythical symbols in the world. The ourobouros is a snake or dragon that bites its own tail and thus forms an eternal circle. It is a symbol for eternal cyclic renewal, the cycle of life, death and rebirth. By putting three ourobouroi biting each other’s tails in a Möbius band, Escher is reinforcing this sense of eternity.

The Ouroboros in a Greek-Byzantine manuscript from 1478
Covers for The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison, first published in 1922

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