M.C. Escher & Rembrandt


This first Mashup Challenge comes from none other than my boyfriend Pat. I should note that my relationship with Pat is built from a strong foundation of love, friendship, humor, and extreme competition. This obsessive (and sometimes insane) need to compete with each other can be displayed through lunchtime games of Boggle, nightly viewings of Jeopardy, and our most recent hobby, to outdo each other in geography (i.e. naming as many countries as we can from a particular continent, European cities, state capitals, etc.).

A few weeks ago I was describing this blog to Pat with the utmost enthusiasm, explaining to him how I would encourage readers to challenge me with an artist pairing. Without skipping a beat he says, "I've got one for you. M.C. Escher."

"No problem," I think to myself. I had been thinking of an Escher-esque piece for a while.

"Yeah, M.C. Escher and Rembrandt."

"Rembrandt?" I squawk. "Are you freakin kidding me?"

It took some time, some research, and some general self-talk of "Yes, I can do this," to finally commit to this mashup.

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch mathematical master who loved to explore the areas of architecture and geometry in his pieces. He worked predominately in lithographs and woodcuts. Escher loved to manipulate perspective, repetition, and reflections. I could spend hours looking at one Escher print and never fully comprehend the intricacy of his work. The patterns are never-ending and the relationships between every single object within the print are so complex, my brain hurts even thinking about it now. What is so amazing to me is that Escher had no mathematical training -he relied solely on his intuition- and yet, mathematicians and scientists love to ponder over his work to this day.

One of Escher's most famous artistic constructions is the tessellation. A tessellation is a sort of tiling, where figures cover a plane without overlap or gaps. To me, a tessellation refers to that horrible Honors Geometry project I had to complete in 9th grade, for which I received at B-. Geometry and I do not have a strong relationship and I felt that this mashup was my chance to overcome our feeble past.

Rembrandt, also Dutch, is considered one of the greatest portrait painters in art history. These portraits were either commissioned by others, self-portraits, or Biblical scenes. Rembrandt is often noted as having the ability to combine human and spiritual aspects seamlessly in one painting. This initial biography proved to be quite problematic for me. I am not a strong portrait painter and I had absolutely no clue how a portrait could be tessellated. It was in my research that I discovered Rembrandt, like Escher, was also a printmaker and his prints specifically focused on Biblical stories and allegories.

Ah allegories, one of this English teacher's favorite words. An allegory is sort of symbolic story - the representation of an abstract idea through characters or events in a narrative. [Think Aesop's fables.]

This new insight into Rembrandt's artistic style allowed me a little creative freedom in this mashup. Two of my favorite allegorical stories, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and Lord of the Flies by William Golding, would provide me with symbols to tessellate: an armadillo and a conch shell.

A week of recycling graph paper, re-sharpening pencils and grumbling, "Tessellations suck," I was beginning feel like I was back in 9th grade. Luckily, I found a wonderful website on creating tessellations and found a loophole: The Gap Method. Yes, this method doesn't really account for angles and shapes, and I didn't need a protractor to accomplish the task, but heck, it's still a tessellation.

As for the DIY portion of this post, I have to say, I created the final piece in Adobe Illustrator, using my graphic design background as a crutch. I did still have to create the armadillo and conch shell illustrations to tessellate, which are featured below.

While this was my first mashup challenge, I have to say, it was quite the "uber" challenge....but Pat, I still won.


  1. I don't know B. I'm not sure if we can call this a win. There is no physical piece of art work in our apartment. I somehow feel that an Adobe product doesn't count.

  2. Ouch! First off, print design IS art (and there's a litany of art books of this field at Barnes and Noble to back me up) and there would be an actual piece to hang on a wall IF my printer wasn't out of ink printing your course syllabi and final exams. ZING!