ⓘ Droste effect


ⓘ Droste effect

The Droste effect, known in art as an example of mise en abyme, is the effect of a picture recursively appearing within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear, creating a loop which theoretically could go on forever, but realistically only goes on as far as the image’s quality allows.

The effect is named for a Dutch brand of cocoa, with an image designed by Jan Misset in 1904. It has since been used in the packaging of a variety of products. The effect was anticipated in medieval works of art such as Giottos Stefaneschi Triptych of 1320.


1.1. Effect Origins

The effect is named after the image on the tins and boxes of Droste cocoa powder, one of the main Dutch brands, which displayed a nurse carrying a serving tray with a cup of hot chocolate and a box with the same image, designed by Jan Misset. This image, introduced in 1904, and maintained for decades with slight variations from 1912 by artists including Adolphe Mouron, became a household notion. Reportedly, poet and columnist Nico Scheepmaker introduced wider usage of the term in the late 1970s.


1.2. Effect Mathematics

The appearance is recursive: the smaller version contains an even smaller version of the picture, and so on. Only in theory could this go on forever, as fractals do; practically, it continues only as long as the resolution of the picture allows, which is relatively short, since each iteration geometrically reduces the pictures size.


1.3. Effect Medieval art

The Droste effect was anticipated by Giotto in 1320, in his Stefaneschi Triptych. The polyptych altarpiece portrays in its center panel Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi offering the triptych itself to St. Peter. There are also several examples from medieval times of books featuring images containing the book itself or window panels in churches depicting miniature copies of the window panel itself.


1.4. Effect M. C. Escher

The Dutch artist M. C. Escher made use of the Droste effect in his 1956 lithograph Print Gallery, which depicts a gallery containing a print which depicts the gallery, each time both reduced and rotated, but with a void at the centre of the image. The work has attracted the attention of mathematicians including Bart de Smit and Hendrik Lenstra. They devised a method of filling in the artworks central void in an additional application of the Droste effect by successively rotating and shrinking an image of the artwork.


1.5. Effect Modern usage

The Droste effect was used in the packaging of Land OLakes butter, which features a Native American woman holding a package of butter with a picture of herself. Morton Salt similarly makes use of the effect. The cover of the 1969 vinyl album Ummagumma by Pink Floyd shows the band members sitting in various places, with a picture on the wall showing the same scene, but the order of the band members rotated. The logo of The Laughing Cow cheese spread brand pictures a cow with earrings. On closer inspection, these are seen to be images of the circular cheese spread package, each bearing the image of the laughing cow. The Droste effect is a theme in Russell Hobans childrens novel, The Mouse and His Child, appearing in the form of a label on a can of "Bonzo Dog Food" which depicts itself.

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