Droste effect

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The original 1904 Droste cacao tin, designed by Jan Misset (1861–1931)[a]
Multiple Droste effects in a mirror shop in the Tunis Medina

The Droste effect (Dutch pronunciation: [drɔstə]), known in art as 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.[1]

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 Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych of 1320.



Detail from the 1320 Stefaneschi Triptych showing Cardinal Stefaneschi holding the triptych itself

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.[2] 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.[3]


The appearance is recursive: the smaller version contains an even smaller version of the picture, and so on.[4] Only in theory could this go on forever; practically, it continues only as long as the resolution of the picture allows, which is relatively short, since each iteration geometrically reduces the picture's size.[citation needed]

In medieval art[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6]

In the art of M. C. Escher[edit]

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 artwork's central void in an additional application of the Droste effect by successively rotating and shrinking an image of the artwork.[4][7][8]

In modern usage[edit]

Droste effect by image manipulation (using GIMP)

The Droste effect was used in the packaging of Land O'Lakes butter, which features an Native American woman holding a package of butter with a picture of herself.[4] Morton Salt similarly makes use of the effect.[9] The cover of the 1969 vinyl album Ummagumma by Pink Floyd shows a band member sitting, with a picture on the wall. The picture shows the same scene with a different band member and the effect continues for all four band members, with the picture for the fourth being the cover of their earlier album A Saucerful of Secrets.[10] 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.[4] The Droste effect is a theme in Russell Hoban's children's novel, The Mouse and His Child, appearing in the form of a label on a can of "Bonzo Dog Food" which depicts itself.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johannes (Jan) Misset was born in Haarlem on 8 March 1861 to Willem Jacobus Misset and Catharina Schmidt, and worked as a painter of advertisements. He designed the nurse image for Jan Gerard Droste, based on the painting La serveuse chocolat (c. 1745) by Jean-Étienne Liotard. The Droste tin design was reworked only 8 years later by "Cassandre" (Adolphe Mouron) into its more famous form. Misset died in Haarlem on 26 August 1931, so his design is out of copyright.


  1. ^ Nänny. Max and Fischer, Olga, The Motivated Sign: Iconicity in Language and Literature p. 37, John Benjamins Publishing Company (2001) ISBN 90-272-2574-5
  2. ^ Törnqvist, Egil. Ibsen: A Doll's House, pp.105, Cambridge University Press (1995) ISBN 0-521-47866-9
  3. ^ "Droste, altijd welkom". cultuurarchief.nl. 
  4. ^ a b c d Merow, Katharine (2013). "Escher and the Droste Effect". Mathematical Association of America. Archived from the original on 2 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "Giotto di Bondone and assistants: Stefaneschi triptych". The Vatican. 
  6. ^ See the collection of articles Whatling, Stuart (16 February 2009). "Medieval 'mise-en-abyme': the object depicted within itself" (PDF). Courtauld Institute. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013.  for examples and opinions on how this effect was used symbolically.
  7. ^ de Smit, B.; Lenstra, H. W. (2003). "The Mathematical Structure of Escher's Print Gallery" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 50 (4): 446–451. 
  8. ^ Lenstra, Hendrik; De Smit, Bart. "Applying mathematics to Escher's Print Gallery". Leiden University. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  9. ^ Barr, Jason; Mustachio, Camille D. G. (15 May 2014). The Language of Doctor Who: From Shakespeare to Alien Tongues. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-4422-3481-9. 
  10. ^ Den Hartog, Ben (11 November 2011). "The Droste effect on Pink Floyd album Ummagumma". OtherFocus. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  11. ^ Kelly, Stuart (31 December 2013). "The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban: moving metaphysics for kids". The Guardian. 
  12. ^ "Bonzo Canned Dog Food". Box Vox. 20 November 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2017. 

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