Order and Chaos: Three complex and curious prints


Compass Card


The history of Escher's 'Order and Chaos II' is very interesting, and since it is a personal favorite of mine, I have researched the print extensively, perhaps more than anyone else. Some years ago, I was in contact with people in Holland who were familiar with this print and were in contact with Escher at the time he was creating it. The artist's original intention was for there to be an edition of approximately 180 unsigned examples, but the stone cracked before the entire edition was printed, so somewhat fewer than 180 examples were printed, all of them unsigned.


This special edition of lithographs was intended to be presented to the members of the Masonic Order in Holland, the Knights of Templar. If you have read Dan Brown's books, The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons, you might remember some interesting history of this group, much of it true, some of it written with literary license. What is true is that the Masons have a long and mysterious history in which intellectual truth and curiosity are seen as the best path toward spiritual understanding. This theme of delving into the mysteries of our world and our consciousness through rational concentration seems to fit well with Escher's own personality and curiosity, so I'm not surprised that he was attracted to this project.



Escher's 1947 mezzotint
'Crystal' (left)

 and his 1950 lithograph,
"Order and Chaos" (right)


Order Chaos

This unusual circular lithograph is one of three works Escher created with related themes: in addition to 'Order and Chaos I & II' there is also the mezzotint 'Crystal' which shows the intersection of the perfect world of crystal shapes with the seemingly chaotic world we see around us, filled with ordinary things and random rocks and pebbles. My personal insight into this is that what we often perceive as chaotic is perhaps not so random after all. For example, if you were to take one of the rocks surrounding the crystal in "Order and Chaos" and examine it under a powerful microscope, you would see perfect little interlocking crystals and molecules. We don't see the order.... but it is there within the chaos! Surprisingly similarly, if we look at Escher's interlocking prints we see perfect birds and fish interlocking, and perfect horsemen marching along. We never see those creatures in there perfect forms, but Escher can illustrate their harmony and perfection brilliantly. Is it too far a leap, then, to believe that we as humans may follow some perfect pattern that we can't see, and perhaps we fit together in some unknown way like the little men tumbling down the stairs in Escher's lithograph 'Cycle?' I'm not sure I'm ready to take that last leap, but I enjoy standing at the edge of that intellectual precipice gazing into the challenging unknown that lies beyond.


Mysteries always remain in Escher's work, and one of my favorites it wondering why 'Order and Chaos II' is often sub-titled 'Compass Rose' or 'Compass Card'. Obviously a compass would have four points, or some multiple of that number, whereas the shape we see in this print has either five or ten points depending on how we look at it. Actually, the crystal shape is technically a dodecahedron with points added to each face, a shape known as a 'stellated dodecahedron,' which Escher used again in his hand-colored lithograph 'Gravity,' in which he added dinosaurs standing on each face of the star. I can't accept that it has been related to a compass simply because it is circular, but I enjoy that there is more to learn about Escher's work.


- Jeffrey Price