As one of my colleagues said in an e-mail: ‘Hi everyone, the holidays are now over. Regular life is resuming. And the same applies to meetings.’ The holidays are over. And you may have just returned from a far-flung luxury flight to a tropical location. Or the opposite, that small campsite in France where you enjoy everything that’s less appealing at home: poor sleep on a rickety bed, washing up all day long, cooking without the herbs you need, making do with what you have.
Whatever you did, holiday always offers a new perspective. A fresh view on everyday life, maybe a greater knowledge of other cultures, or simply greater appreciation for the comfort of your own home. Or even literally: the view from the plane. The world looks so different from a different perspective.
Escher was a master in playing with perspective. Even a simple sketch to life could turn into something exciting by the angle that he chose. A notable example is his depiction of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Various artists have devoted their time to depicting this Roman basilica. There are many static depictions of it. Escher however, made this depiction a fascinating architectonic rollercoaster of a print where you feel the car’s hoist rattle and you just have the opportunity for a quick glance down before you inevitably zoom down. He chose a fresh perspective, curved from top to bottom. In a sharp angle, you can see both the side aisle and the choir from above. When people asked him whilst he was sketching whether this perspective wasn’t making him dizzy, he answered enthusiastically: ‘That’s the whole point!’
A different perspective
Another one is the Tower of Babel. This subject has been depicted numerous times. Dutch and Flemish masters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries alone have already painted, engraved, drawn and etched this Biblical topic thousands of times. Always looking directly at the tower, or from the bottom.
What could Escher add to this? A different perspective! In Escher’s print, you view the Tower of Babel from the air. And the tower isn’t round and lobed like it is in Bruegel’s cosy Tower of Babel, which can be seen in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. No, the tower is sleek like a skyscraper and a staggering height. And here too, you are looking right at a corner of the building, making optimal use is of the tower’s perspective effect.
Power of expression
Escher’s much less well-known work, Nieuwjaarswens 1947 (New Year’s Wish 1947), is small, but as impressive to me as the ones mentioned before. Here we are literally getting ourselves out of a hole, along with someone with tremendously muscular arms. WWII ended over a year ago and we are right in the middle of the regeneration. The words at the bottom are encouraging: ‘Wij komen er uit!’ (We are getting there!) Through this perspective, Escher is able to depict the feelings of isolation, poverty, fear and oppression that the war years caused for many people. But at the same time, liberation shines outside of the well: after all, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here, the perspective is what makes the print so expressive.
The last print may remind you of the end of your holiday. In this print, Escher has included a view of the Dutch polder. The thing that makes the Netherlands so Dutch and what only becomes really visible from the air: the patchwork quilt of neatly ordered fields. After all, much of the Netherlands has been created on the drawing board. Escher was inspired by this perspective from the air and by the orderliness of the landscape that is becoming even more apparent: he made it into a tessellation. The fields gradually turn into birds: the world-famous Dag en nacht (Day and night).
At the time, he had never been on an aircraft, but the perspective… that was something that he was able to imagine.