Hand with Reflecting Sphere is one of Escher’s most famous works. This lithograph, first printed in 1935, is also known as Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror. At this festive time of year, it seemed befitting to focus the spotlight on this print. The exhibition ´ESCHER To Eternity: the life and work of M.C. Escher seen from a different perspective´ is a theme-based exhibition, that is to say that each room is dedicated to a specific theme. I have chosen the most beautiful room in the old Palace to showcase the theme of reflection.
This room houses a number of prints, all dedicated to the theme of reflection. It could be the reflection of the sky in a puddle of water, or the reflection in a pond. But Escher’s most famous reflection, of course, is this Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror. I chose this room especially for the festive season, because of the wondrous light that pierces through the spacious bay window overlooking the garden, and because of the magnificent tree decorated with big and small silver baubles. A tree filled with silver baubles and twinkling lights never fails to add a festive sparkle; it exudes a classical feel that is befitting of a Palace.
This room features two mirrors on either side, facing each other. In days gone by, residents spent the long winter evenings by candlelight, a large chandelier suspended in the centre between the two mirrors, which more than doubled the light output. Today, the room is graced with a large, star-shaped chandelier, created for Escher in Het Paleis by Hans van Bentem. A Christmas star, to be precise.
Escher was fascinated by reflection, in particular sphere reflections. In 1920, after paying a visit to the Grote Kerk in Haarlem, he made a pen drawing of a spherical reflection. He was studying in Haarlem at the time, and was training to become a graphic artist. In that early drawing, Escher depicts the reflection of the copper chandelier suspended above the pews. The straight rows run along the entire length of the copper sphere.
In Hand with Reflecting Sphere, we can still see the round lines, but it is much subtler than in Escher’s drawing. It is not immediately apparent that the ceiling is round, or that the lamp is in such an odd position. In the centre of the picture is Escher, looking straight at the viewer. Behind him and alongside him is the studio in Rome, where the family resided at the time. It is orderly and tidy. The most intriguing feature of the work, however, is the hand holding the sphere: Escher’s right hand. The hand is so close to the viewer that it appears as though the viewer is looking at his own hand.
Of course, that is not the case, but you certainly get that impression when you examine the work more closely. Furthermore, the viewer is led to believe that the sphere is resting on a left hand. The thumb is on the left, which means that he must be holding the sphere with his left hand. Or not? A lithographic print is a mirror image of the original drawing made on the stone! The left-handed Escher must have used his right hand as an example.
In Room 15, on the second floor, you can try it out and see for yourself, and admire your own reflection in a silver sphere.