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Saint Nicholas’ Church, Ghent

Maurits, Jetta and their two sons spent July and August of 1934 in the artists’ village of Saint-Idesbald. The village is home to several museums, including that of the world-famous surrealist painter Paul Delvaux. Escher had rented a house there, together with his brother Eddy and sister-in-law Irma.* During that holiday, Escher and Jetta visited Ghent, Bruges and Tournai. That same holiday Escher created a woodcut of the cathedrals of Ghent and Tournai.

The city of Ghent is characterised by three medieval church towers, which are located close to each other. In addition to the one on St. Nicholas’ Church, those of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and the Belfry loom over the city. It is confusing that Escher’s woodcut in the catalogue of his works is called Saint Bavo, despite it not being of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, the tourist attraction containing the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1430-1432) by Jan van Eyck. St. Nicholas’ Church is dedicated to Nicholas of Myra and features a distinctive lantern tower, a church tower above the junction of the four arms of a cruciform church. Escher depicts the church from the west, with the 14th-century tower of the Belfry visible in the background

Black dominates his woodcut, with subtle nuances of light to suggest the curvature of the towers or the edges of the roof. The sky is also dark, as if a thunderstorm could break out at any moment. It stands in stark contrast to the woodcut of the cathedral of Tournai Escher produced shortly after this one.

This holiday proved to be a precursor to a longer stay in Belgium—after two years in Switzerland the family would move to Uccle (Brussels) in the summer of 1937


[*] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 168-169

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